“The move” is a turn of phrase I use quite often. “What’s the move at Tsbuaki?” I would ask a fellow writer who has been there, or I might text “Get the eggplant parm. That’s the move,” to a friend going to Ggiata. The move is what you should order if you’re going to a restaurant for the first time. It’s a confident and can’t fail recommendation, but also an assessment of the best a restaurant has to offer. It can be a standout dish, a list of appetizers, or a specific ordering combination (the sandwich, a blood orange soda and a bag of Tim’s at Roma Market, for example), but the move often stretches past the food. It encompasses the situation, the hours of operation, whether that place does lunch or dinner better, or sometimes it can pertain to exactly who is working in the kitchen on a given night. The move is a specific set of instructions, a shared reconnaissance, and a kind of shorthand I give friends to have the best experience possible. Usually, divulging the move comes in the form of a text message, of which I send many. Maybe that’s what this column is—a protracted text message to a dear friend (you, the reader).
So this is a series called The Move. First up is Ceci’s Gastronomia, a cozy and picturesque Italian spot in Silverlake, of which I am a regular.
Ceci’s (pronounced ché-cheeze, not see-see’s), has charmed the pants off of Los Angeles since it opened last year. It’s remarkable how lovely the whole scene is, from the sun-kissed location, to the exuberant yellow umbrellas, to the friendly couple (Francesco and Francesca) who run the place. There is an unrelenting pleasantness to Ceci’s, and the food has the spirit of familial, nourishing, nonna-style cooking with a focus on regional Italian specialities. “The best comfort food Italy has to offer,” is the way I describe the menu.
Go to Ceci’s alone first thing in the morning, and grab a coffee and a bombolone. A bombolone, for the uninitiated, is an Italian-style donut filled with custard or nutella. Personally, I’d go with the custard bombolone, as you get to enjoy the sugary crystals and citrus-like fragrance of this freshly fried donut a little more without the Nutella. Quite often I overhear Francesca recommending the traditional Genovese breakfast to customers—a focaccia Genovese ($4) dipped into a cappuccino. Extra virgin olive oil-baked bread and cappuccino might seem irregular, but the combination is refreshing, savory, and light. Not for nothing, but when the owner of a restaurant asks you to do something, you do it.
Ceci’s perhaps shines brightest at lunch time, when the sun beats down directly onto the umbrellas and you find yourself enveloped by shade. If you’re in search of good sandwiches, you have to get a focaccina, specifically, the caponata in focaccina ($11). It consists of a crunchy and fragrant disk of their house made focaccia stuffed with sweet, meaty, tart eggplant caponata. You can, and should, add burrata to this sandwich for $3. Without the burrata, the sandwich is vegan, making it one of the best vegan sandwiches in the Los Angeles area. If you desire meat, go for the polpette al sugo in focaccina, which is essentially a delicately made, yet sizable meatball sandwich.
Ideally, Ceci’s is an experience best explored with a group of people, so if you can round up three or four mates, you should; it’s rather easy to nab a table outside. The turnover rate is high, and the crowd usually features a rotation of people quickly finishing up their meals within 15-20 minutes. There’s only a few tables out front, and a tall wooden bar table with a few stools. The hot tip is actually this: Ceci’s will open for dinner later this month. In the meantime, the best thing you can do is have a late lunch with three friends and order a little bit of everything. Overhearing a customer ask Francesca, “What’s the best thing on the menu?” is always funny, as she inevitably says, “All of it.” Truly, that’s the answer. Everything is good, and every item on the menu shares the same amount of warmth and excitement. You should share that with multiple people, but no more than four.
The food at Ceci’s feels authentically Italian, and therefore more nuanced and decadent than its more ubiquitous, Italian-American counterparts. Take the incredible and must-order lasagne al pesto, a fragrant, nutty, and creamy dessert-like miniature casserole that is beautifully layered, not brutish, clumsy, and Stouffer’s-esque. The house-made lasagna noodles are thin, eggy, and spread neatly with bechamel, Parmigiano Reggiano, and pesto before being baked and broiled with fresh mozzarella. It feels light, in a way, and pairs perfectly with a side salad of bitey and bitter greens served with a bright citronette dressing. Maybe the most spectacular thing about Ceci’s is how it’s appropriate for all seasons; it assimilates into cold and warm weather quite easily.
The gnocco alla romana is made in the traditional Roma style. This isn’t potato gnocchi, but rather uniformly baked balls of semolina dough dotted with cheese and butter, and warmly baked in an oven. The gnocco are deeply satisfying in the kind of decadent way you’d expect from butter-loaded French preparations. This heartening dish is exquisitely singular with its texture and taste, the type of thing that’s best eaten slowly and savored.
Really, all of Ceci’s is meant to be savored. The experience puts you smack dab in the moment, a beautiful place in time that’s curated by Francesca and Francesco. The excited, considerate, good-humored, and familial Italian spirit that I adore is alive and well at Ceci’s. It’s quite honestly my favorite Italian restaurant in Los Angeles.
Ceci’s Gastronomia is open Tuesday-Saturday from 8AM – 7PM, and on Sundays from 9AM-3PM.
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