"Will I be moving to LA?" Chris Bianco replies.
Hear that? That's the sound of a collective Phoenix heart stopping.
"No, I won't be moving to LA," he answers finally. "But I do look forward to having a place there, spending time there, and being part of the fabric of the city."
That's right, Chris Bianco is colonizing downtown Los Angeles as part of a joint venture with Chad Robertson of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. Called the Row DTLA, the space will inhabit “three super old, Iron Curtain-like buildings" at Alameda and Bay streets, located in the wholesale food district that is just now seeing a wave of revitalization, according to Seth Sulka, the chief operating officer of the Bianco Group.
"Chad called me about a year and a half ago, and we talked about doing some crazy project in downtown," Bianco explains. "I said, 'If you want me there, I'll be there.'"
All together, it's a grand plan, consisting of 10,000 square feet of culinary splendor with an open market space featuring cheese, charcuterie, a pickle case, an antipasti bar, focaccette sandwiches, Tartine bread and pastries, and prepackaged sundry items.
That's right. Bianco to go.
Filling the cases and shelves will be products by Bianco, some produced in-house, others by specific small producers from the western U.S. and beyond.
Set to open this upcoming November, two restaurants will fill out the space, including a casual all-day eatery and a "fine dining — with the specification of air quotes around that," emphasizes Sulka. The upscale restaurant will include an 18-person private dining room and a 1,600-square-foot al fresco space.
"It will emulate some of Tratto [Bianco's midtown restaurant], but don't expect it to be Tratto," Sulka adds. "We're putting the emphasis on local sourcing but with distinction."
A 30,000 square-foot grain mill in the basement will supply the restaurants, bakery, and market with flour and staples.
The market space will be joined by an all-day casual eatery, called the Manufactory, and will focus on a collection of simple, rustic menu items from early morning to late night, using many ingredients from the market itself.
"We'll be choosing specific organic heirloom grains, fermentation times, and cooking methods to best present something familiar and unassuming and go to the highest level possible," Bianco says.
"And in the restaurant, (we're) taking some of what's going on at Manufactory now and bringing in some of our influence from my little trattoria ... Tratto here in Phoenix, and also from our journeys near and far."
There may even be, he teases, some type of hand-held taco.
The Manufactory portion of the venture will also cover some innovative ground with the cherry on the sundae: the second location of Tartine Cookies & Cream. It will serve coffee all day and night (and doughnuts in the morning), with scoops, soft-serve, ice cream pies, and Otter Pops served from late morning to late night, and will feature a happy mistake, Bianco says — buffalo-milk soft-serve.
"It was discovered by accident," he explains. "And it's delicious. These are the things in this project that are so inspiring."
Another boasting point of the venture is the the import of two Castelli ovens from Italy, the first of their kind to be used in the United States. The ovens are three feet long to bake a veritable yard-long pizza.
But it's not the pizza that is so closely linked to Chris Bianco. This is not a wood-fired oven, the kind used to make Bianco's famous pizza that is responsible for his James Beard title; there will be no wood-fired oven at the Manufactory.
Instead, Bianco plans to serve a different sort of pizza, the type you'd typically get in Rome. It's square, has a thicker crust, and if you were an Italian kid, it's the kind your Nana used to make. Bianco calls it "al taglio." It's the style of pizza served at Pane Bianco in Central Phoenix, with a focaccia foundation.
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"Lots of people have been asking me will there be a Pizzeria Bianco inside; no, there will not," he says. "But what there will be is Chad and my life's work taking shapes, some more familiar than others — for instance taking something familiar like Sicilian or pizza taglio."
Does this mean there's a Pizzeria Bianco planned for LA sometime soon?
It's possible. There will be no "Bianco" name for these restaurants or market; Bianco relays that it will be called something more along the lines of “Chad and Chris's ... something."
He concludes, "As far as, will there ever be a Pizzeria Bianco in Los Angeles? I have been listening and kicking tires on opportunities there, and if I do find a perfect fit, then I think it will happen. But right now, I'm really grateful to have this opportunity to help create a template of good intentions that will survive long past my earthly tenure. I hate short-term solutions. I want the longest haul possible."