Surprise! One of Chi Spacca's best dishes is a salad, according to chef Ryan DeNicola

Chi spacca means “the one who cleaves” in Italian. Never was a name more appropriate than this. The sound of the cleaver welcomed us, as we entered this bold meat-oriented dinner spot, and popped up again numerous times during our interview with Executive Chef Ryan DeNicola.

Chi SPACCA is nestled between its cousins Osteria Mozza and Mozza2Go, on Melrose and Highland. The three restaurants (plus Pizzeria Mozza) are owned and operated by the Batali-Bastianich-Silverton group. Should you have any doubt, you can easily recognize Chi SPACCA from the cleaver sign over the front door!

Three specialties at Chi Spacca, Los Angeles

Credit: Agata Gravante/Foodiamo

Not a surprise for a restaurant that originated from the popular salumi night dinners of the former Scuola di Pizza (pizza school). In fact, the menu of Chi SPACCA still includes an abundant salumi section. Its former chef, Chad Colby, was the cured meat specialist and had its own salumi bar.

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About a year ago Colby left his place to Ryan DeNicola, another lover of grilling and chopping. Ryan used to be Chef de Cuisine at Pizzeria Mozza, right next door. All in the family, following the Italian tradition…

Speaking of Italian, the menu at Chi SPACCA should ring a bell to those familiar with Batali-Bastianich-Silverton restaurants. From the antipasti to the Macelleria section, to the focus on seasonal produce for sides and salads. You can also find Pizzeria Mozza’s signature dessert, the Butterscotch Budino.

Chi Spacca Chef, Ryan DeNicola

Chi SPACCA Chef Ryan DeNicola (Credit: Agata Gravante/Foodiamo)

Chi Spacca: Skip the menu and order these three dishes

To help you navigate the menu and guide you through your first (or maybe not) visit at Chi SPACCA, we asked Ryan DeNicola about the three most representative dishes. And guess what, one really is a salad. Here we go!

1. Porcini-rubbed beef short ribs: The best of both worlds (Italian and Korean)

Let’s start with the meat. After all, that’s what we are here for, right? This “big pile of charred meat” is probably the most popular (and most Instagrammed) dish at Chi SPACCA.

It consists of prime short ribs cut Flanken-style, which Bon Appétit defines as “cross cut across several bones”, great if marinated and slow cooked. This is the usual style of Korean BBQ.

The recipe comes from Elizabeth Hong, chef at Osteria Mozza. Her mother owns Parks BBQ in Koreatown. Not a strictly Italian dish, then, but the perfect fusion between two cuisines that Angeleños love.

Chi Spacca porcini-rubbed short ribs

Credit: Agata Gravante/Foodiamo

Make no mistakes. The style could be Korean, but the ingredients are typically Italian. Soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar, used in Korean cuisine, are replaced by red onions, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. And the porcini rub adds a pleasant depth of flavor.

The dish borrows something else from Korean cuisine, in that it uses kiwi in the marinade. Surprisingly, the enzymes in this fruit help breaking down the ribs, tenderizing the meat. After marinating, the ribs are grilled, then tossed in salsa verde, and served on a bed of garlic and rosemary roasted potatoes.

Ryan explains that they tried several times to change or omit the marinate, the rub, or the salsa verde. Eventually, they settled on what they thought was the best combination possible. “Everything [in that dish] needs to be there”, he says. We’re gonna trust him on this one.

2. Grilled octopus with pureed and fried ceci: A taste of Southern Italy

Fish gotta have its moment too, so here it is. Olive-oil braised octopus, tossed in a lemon vinaigrette, served on a creamy purée of half garbanzo beans (ceci) and half potatoes, and topped with crunchy fried garbanzos. So simple, so good.

Chi Spacca octopus

Credit: Agata Gravante/Foodiamo

As DeNicola pointed out, the protein (meat or fish, in this case) is the star. You shouldn’t cover it, but rather make it stand out by using simple ingredients and simple preparations.

This dish reminds him of the Amalfi Coast, in Southern Italy, where it’s just common to find at least one octopus dish in every café or restaurant.

There’s a little secret here, too, and it involves wine. Ryan was kind enough to share it with us. They put wine corks in the olive oil, to make the octopus more tender. Enzymes, again. It might be an old trick, but it works!

3. Little gem lettuces: No basics allowed

You’re probably thinking, “I’m not going to Chi SPACCA and eat salad.” But trust me, this is not your average salad.

First of all, there’s chopped-up bacon in the dressing (because, duh). Secondly, each individual leaf is massaged with it, then layered carefully, and topped with crunchy herbed breadcrumbs and sieved egg yolk for a touch of smoothness.

The salad at Chi Spacca, Los Angeles

Credit: Agata Gravante/Foodiamo

The dish carries the signature of Nancy Silverton, “a real salad expert”, as DeNicola puts it. “She’s able to pick up every individual part of a salad”, he says. And makes real wonders with it, we shall add.

Sure, this is not an Italian regional dish. Think of it as Chi SPACCA’s take on Caesar’s salad. It also embodies California cuisine which, to use Ryan’s words, is about “taking seasonal ingredients and using them to their best”.


6610 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Phone: (323) 297 1133

Photos by Agata Gravante Photography. All rights reserved

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