Bask in the pleasures of adulthood with “The Party” and the unparalleled pasta of Felix Trattoria
By Angela Matano
“Have I wasted my life on a mirage?” asks one of the intelligent yet tortured characters in director Sally Potter’s new drawing room comedy of manners, “The Party.” What sounds potentially genteel turns out to be a pitch-black dive into the murky waters of conscience.
Chockablock with a baker’s half-dozen of gifted actors (among them Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall and Kristin Scott Thomas), this dark comedy about a group of old friends turns from celebratory to awkward as egos inflate and pop like overblown balloons.
Ms. Potter is nothing if not a grown-ass woman. With sumptuous and heady films like “Orlando” and “The Tango Lesson” under her belt, she exhibits an eye for detail and an affinity for bold characters. Materialism, atheism, feminism and democracy get parsed, scrutinized and put up wet in the course of the movie, the post-irony of modern life exhausting enough to turn the characters blasé.
But did I mention that “The Party” is funny? Laugh out loud so. I laughed at the characters, I laughed with the characters, and I laughed at myself in uncomfortable recognition. This truly feels like a 21st-century picture, where every choice is a compromise and nothing is a fairy tale.
This is a film you’ll want to discuss, and the dining room at Felix Trattoria feels more like a series of rooms in a house, making it especially conducive to intimate chats. The cozy booths and gorgeous, grandma-quirky green-patterned wallpaper feel a little bit vintage and overwhelmingly charming.
In the center of the main room, a glass booth showcases chefs — maybe even Chef Evan Funke himself — making pasta by hand right before your eyes, like an Italian Willy Wonka. And what pasta! Perhaps the best in the city. Maniche, tonnarelli and paparadelle come dressed simply and scrumptiously. Look for dishes driven by guanciale (cured pork cheeks) — the sock-it-to-me flavor will remind you of your first taste of bacon, if you’re lucky enough to remember that seminal experience.
The fresh bread (pane di campagna or sfincione, a Sicilian focaccia with rosemary, sea salt and olive) comes so directly from the oven you have to watch that you don’t burn your fingers or the roof of your mouth. It is as if Chef Funke somehow reduced bread down to its basic essence and somehow built it up again. Do not pass up this bread!
Other things are good at Felix Trattoria. The vegetables come fresh and simple and full of flavor. The sheep’s milk ricotta and fior di latte cheeses, served alongside the squash blossoms, are as fresh as anything you might have had in Italy. Meat dishes call to mind the beauty of Mediterranean cuisine, but with Funke’s own infusions of flavor, and special touches — like dandelion and chestnuts with the pork shoulder steak — make plates especially memorable.
But if you don’t eat carbohydrates, don’t bother — it would almost be sacrilegious to pass on this pasta.
While the trendiness of Abbot Kinney Boulevard continues to reach past a sustainable dining scene, Felix Trattoria represents a hard right turn. This is the kind of food people dream about, and recommend to friends. For those of us without the expendable income that flows through Los Angeles like so much glitter, Felix Trattoria would work well as your special occasion place — just fancy enough to make you feel singular, and just relaxed enough to make your feel at home.
In a land of infinite adolescence, sometimes it’s nice to play grownup for a night.
“The Party” is screening at The Landmark, 10850 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A. (310) 470-0492; landmarktheatres.com
Felix Trattoria is at 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (424)387-8622; felixla.com