If you walk around Venice on any random night, you’ll notice a crowd milling around across the street from an elementary school. They’re waiting for seats at Felix LA, one of the most famous pasta shops in the USA. But, does it live up to its reputation?Jonathan Gold famously didn’t think so, leaving Felix off his annual best restaurants list because their pasta was so undercooked.
For me, undercooked pasta isn’t a big deal; any random pasta shop in Rome serves pasta orders of magnitude harder than anything around here and you can probably ask them nicely to cook it a little longer. In any case, Felix has adjusted the pasta doneness to suit American tastes, but in a lot of other ways, Felix was a bit of a disappointment for us.
Our experience wasn’t the same one you’d get if you did things the right way: planning in advance and actually having reservations. We knew that they kept the bar open for walk-ins and just went for it without reservations. That’s just how we like to roll: lineups don’t bother us and we like sitting at the bar. We arrived an hour early and found out we were the first ones in line, and settled down for some quality phone and conversation time.
The lineup system left a lot to be desired in that there was no system at all. People showed up and milled about wherever there was space on the sidewalk. The staff (who were clearly inside) didn’t come out to organize the massive crowd until just before opening. The result was that some people ended up unintentionally cutting the line and others were pushed back from where they should have been, and the space is small enough that one spot back could mean an extra 30 minutes. A tiny sign reading:
Welcome to Felix
← No Reservations
would have helped a lot.
We were the first ones in and the manager let us pick our own seats. The bar area was laid out with 4 small tables for two near the window and a gorgeous bar with 6-7 barstools. We chose the middle two seats at the bar, our usual M.O. This proved to be a mistake: the clientele of the restaurant, at least the ones waiting for their table, seemed to think the place was a nightclub. We had a lot of tech bros, hollywood bros, and clueless (and intentionally rude) tourists rub shoulders with us, pushing against us, and generally assuming that the space between seats was fair game to stand and order drinks at. Several times, the bartenders had to ask them to step back and give the diners more space.
The upside to sitting at the bar was being able to overhear what drinks the bro-clientele ordered. When a guy with a large paunch and a shiny suit yells for two grey goose martinis without even reading the menu and doesn’t understand the bartender when she tells him that they don’t carry grey goose, you’d better believe I’m judging him. The selection of Italian liqueurs and the composed drinks were out of this world though. The ultra clear ice stamped with the Felix logo was a nice touch. Grey goose guy didn’t get that ice by the way, he got the generic ice.
The service was excellent, although our uni pasta came with no description or explanation of whether or not we should mix up the uni or take small bites of it (we mixed it up). Our bartender was top notch, and we never felt like we had trouble getting her attention even though there were dozens of people yelling drink orders at her from every direction.
But you don’t go to restaurants for just the service and decor; the food is what makes a restaurant. We were meeting some friends later for second dinner, so we went light and ordered only the famous focaccia, the pappardelle Bolognese, and the uni spaghetti. We also made friends with our neighbor (she’s the mayor of another city it turned out) who shared her squash blossoms and burrata with us. The appetizers tasted just fine. I don’t know what makes that focaccia so legendary; it was pretty ordinary focaccia for me. The quality of the noodles themselves were great and definitely homemade in the best way. The uni pasta tasted mostly of lemon and not enough of uni – though whether for reasons of seasonality or low sales it’s now off the menu, so it’s a moot point.
Earlier that day though, before we decided to go to Felix, we visited Uovo just up the street for a cheap and cheerful pasta lunch, and we had also ordered the Bolognese there for about half the price of Felix’s and none of the pomp and circumstance. Uovo was definitely the better Bolognese for me, both in flavor and pasta.
I’m the kind of person that loves to rewatch movies over and over again, relishing each time I pick up something new that I didn’t notice before. I also do this with restaurants, revisiting restaurants I love over and over again, sometimes ordering the entire menu over half a dozen visits. I mostly rate restaurants by how much I want to go back to them. While Felix was pretty good and not at all a waste of an afternoon, I’m not sure I would go back, which is a shame because it really is a beautiful room.