The Woman Behind Felix Trattoria
By Danny Jensen
It didn’t take long for LA’s Felix Trattoria to get its due. Open less than a year, the stylish, pasta-focused Italian eatery on Abbot Kinney, was named one of the country’s best new restaurants by Esquire; Bon Appétit raved that “it was the best pasta [we] ate all year.”
While much of the buzz has centered around chef Evan Funke, owner Janet Zuccarini is no less of a trailblazer. Twenty years ago, Zuccarini opened her first restaurant, downtown Toronto’s Trattoria Nervosa. She now owns four more restaurants in Canada, a catering division, an online shop, and now Felix in the United States. She never planned on making a career of it. But you might say it runs in the Zuccarini family. Her father Giacomo, credited with introducing the first espresso machine to Canada, worked in restaurants and hotels around the world, including London’s famed Savoy.
“He had a passion for food and eating well,” Zuccarini says. “My mother, who was German, would try to stick a schnitzel in there once in a while and it would be very upsetting to my father. He only liked Italian food and things made from scratch and the best ingredients, so I was brought up not only eating the best product and produce, but a very genuine way of making the food.”
She had an instant connection with Funke, who is steeped in the same tradition, and the concept behind Felix quickly came into focus. “Evan’s cooking is what I would describe, and also he describes, as casalinga, which directly translates as ‘housewife cooking’,” says Zuccarini. “There’s something feminine about [his cooking], but Evan is not feminine. Physically, he’s quite an imposing guy and he’s got tattoos. So I had to do something that’s homey, a little bit more on the masculine side, but also a nod to that style of cooking.”
An unmistakable feature of that presentation is the pasta lab, a glassed-in, temperature-controlled room in the center of the restaurant where Funke and his team studiously handcraft tender, fresh pasta. “Honestly, I think Evan makes the best pasta, including anywhere that I’ve eaten in Italy,” the well-travelled Zuccarini explains. “Evan goes to farmer’s markets every single day and picks the best of the best we could possibly get. He’s making it in the simplest, purest way, so you’re not hiding anything.”
In particular, Zuccarini raves about Funke’s rigatoni all’amatriciana, made with a pomodoro sauce with crisped guanciale. “That was our pasta in my house that my mother, my father, my grandmother, my nonna, always made,” she reminisces. And then there’s the cacio e pepe, “I’ve eaten it everywhere in Italy and Evan’s version is absolutely the best. He hits it hard with pepper and I love it.”
Zuccarini feels that in a restaurant-rich city like Los Angeles, delivery services like Postmates only make discovery easier. “Everyone wants convenience, so as soon as you find a more convenient and and more affordable way to get food with an app like Postmates, that’s the direction that the world is going to go in.”
She credits her love for travel and dining out — from “Michelin-starred restaurants to eating on
the side of the road at somebody’s wok” — for helping her keep a finger on the pulse of what diners look for. But at the end of the day, it’s her attention to detail and healthy self-confidence that are the key to her success.
“It’s important to just see what’s out there in the world to get a sense for what the next trend is,” she says. “I did the restaurant business according to Janet Zuccarini.”
Want to eat like a restauranteur? Postmates can get it for you while you wait for a seat at Felix.