When you step into Cento Pasta Bar you’re greeted with a smile from the man behind the counter. Today he’ll be your chef, waiter, and busboy. For mere mortals, this may seem a herculean task (especially if you’ve worked in a restaurant before), but fortunately for us, Michael Lewis loves what he does, and his enthusiasm can be felt in everything he cooks. Welcome to Cento, a pasta-focused restaurant that simply must be tasted. Lewis comes to Cento by way of six years of professional cooking, but he gives all credit to his grandmother for his skills. “The most influential person in my life,” he says. His grandmother is from Pavia, a small town in Northern Italy, and her love of cooking was passed down to her grandson.
After culinary school Lewis cut his teeth in kitchens around Los Angeles including Bestia, the Arts District’s Italian heavy-hitter. It’s there where he met Avner Lavi, the mind behind Cento. Lavi had started Cento a year and a half ago — a pop-up that managed to be so successful they moved into Mignon, the wine bar next door to Cole’s.
“We became a permanent pop-up,” says Lewis. From 11AM — 3PM, Wednesday through Saturday, Cento utilizes the wine bar’s space, using hot plates to boil water and cook pasta and a panini press to make toast.
Watching him at work is what makes the experience at Cento so special. There truly is nowhere for Lewis to hide. From cooking to plating, all the way through washing the dishes, Cento is a one-man show. It takes a certain kind of Chef to withstand this pace, let alone have fun with it.
The menu is constantly rotating, depending on what he’s interested in cooking that week. For the summer Cento is focusing on fresh veggies. Try their zucchini panini – the baguettes are first toasted with olive oil and then topped with crème fraîche, then the raw zucchini is tossed with lemon juice, lemon zest and olive oil and topped on the baguette. It’s fresh and delicious.
There’s only one item that stays on the menu year-round: the beet spaghetti. The delicious dish is tossed with beer puree, poppy seeds, browned butter, a little bit of salt and sugar. A dollop of goat cheese and a sprinkle of chives finish up the dish. “It’s light and earthy and not super beet-y,” says Lewis. “It’s a nice pasta.” This is an understatement. It is wonderful.
More than just an outstanding pasta-focused restaurant, Cento makes a great lunch spot. Watch as your chef/waiter/busser moves like magic, putting incredible plates in front of you and then taking them away, just as delighted as you are with your meal.
Written by Abel Horwitz
Photographed by Stephen LaMarche