Chef Evan Funke developed a steady following among local foodies for good reason. The Chef de Cuisine at Rustic Canyon in its heyday, the cooking under Chef Funke was delicious, with good seasonal Vegetable dishes, a killer Burger that our old Chowhound veterans raved about, and more. He then went on to open Bucato, a standalone Handmade Pasta restaurant and that’s when his obsessiveness with Italian Pasta seemed to really blossom. From instructional videos to exploring all different sizes and shapes… then with Felix, Chef Funke seemed to really embrace a full Italian celebration, even though it had its missteps (but also standout dishes).
Coming out of the first 2 years of the pandemic, Chef Funke has decided to expand, with a massive opening of Mother Wolf, which is devoted to all things from the city of Rome, Italy. It sounded promising enough and we were excited to give it a try.
Mother Wolf occupies the Citizen News building in the heart of Hollywood. Walking in, you are greeted by a grandiose dining hall. The term “grand ballroom” is befitting a space like this. It’s loud, and packed with people. There are high ceilings, and the whole aesthetic has a bit of Bottega Louie mixed with old school, fine dining charm.
During our 1st visit, Chef Evan Funke was personally making some Pies when we arrived, but then moved over to overseeing the dishes as they came out.
The menu continues Chef Funke’s devotion to Italian cuisine (like Felix) with all the dishes listed in Italian, with mainly Italian descriptions. There’s an opening bread section, appetizers, pastas, pizzas and main courses.
Bruschetta di Porchetta (Porchetta della Casa, Finochietto):
Chef Funke personally recommended this dish to us, so we had to oblige. And, it was pretty spectacular! Thin slices of Porchetta are layered on top of a Housemade Bread, topped with Fennel and Pork Cracklin’ (Fried Pork Skin)! It’s then topped with a luscious, fatty Pork Jous.
When you take a bite and the thin, fatty, tender, melt-in-your-mouth slices of glorious Pork Roast mixes with bites of crunchy Fried Pork Skin it’s absolutely delicious, decadent and glorious!
It’s like an absurd “French Dip Sandwich” in a way, and totally worth ordering. Highlight of the meal!
Polpette di Coda (Oxtail Meatballs, Sugo di Pomodoro, Pecorino Romano DOP):
These were far better than the Meatballs at Felix (Chef Funke’s previous restaurant). The Oxtail meat really gives each bite a deep, unctuous, succulent quality. The seasoning was also balanced, and just a satisfying bite overall.
Sadly, things only went downhill from here.
Boscaiola Pizza (Fior di Latte, Wild Mushrooms, Caciotta di Capra, Salsiccia, Finocchietto):
As aforementioned, Mother Wolf is Chef Funke’s tribute to the city of Rome. He claims these Pizzas he’s serving (wafer-thin) are authentic and the style that’s present in the city. However, it’s all for naught if he doesn’t have properly trained staff making them. We saw Chef Funke making a few pies, but then stepping away to watch over all the dishes coming out of the kitchen. His assistants in charge of making the pies… might need more training. We saw (over the course of a couple visits and hours at a time), them mangle countless Pizzas. They were trying to make them as thin as possible (to follow Chef’s guidance perhaps), but it was probably like ~20% of the pies we saw them make got ripped, or accidentally folded over, torn going in or out of the wood burning oven, etc., and thrown away as a result.
But maybe the ones that were safely cooked might be fine?
The Boscaiola arrived, with half the Pizza burnt on the outside (see pic above). The other half was fine, with no burnt crust (very inconsistent).
The actual taste? It was fine. Of course, Pizza right out of the oven, piping hot, will have an inherent appeal and certain level of tastiness, but that’s where it ends.
Like Felix, Mother Wolf’s Pizzas are not their strong suite. The crust is OK, wafer-thin. The Wild Mushrooms were the highlight of the Pizza itself, fragrant and meaty tender. But for overall flavor and final taste? It didn’t really resonate, nor sing. And when the restaurant is charging you $47(!) ($36 + tax & tip) for a Pizza? It better be great. (@ipsedixit @paranoidgarliclover @A5KOBE @js76wisco and all.)
Napoletana Pizza (Stracciatella di Burrata, Salsa di Pomodoro, Alici di Cetara, Olive Oil, Origano Selvatico):
This was another Pizza made by Chef Funke’s assistants. This turned out worse than the previous one, with totally burnt Pizza edges (see pics above). This made the entire outer portion of the Pizza inedible.
As for the flavors here? Fresh Burrata, so creamy and delicate, worked well to mellow out the pungency and salinity of the Anchovies.
Mezzi Rigatoni alla Carbonara (Guanciale, Egg, Black Pepper, Pecorino Romano DOP):
Knowing Chef Funke’s obsession with Italian Pastas, this was the section we were looking forward to the most. There are fewer Pastas than Felix, but with them stating Mother Wolf was focused on Rome, I suppose it’s not surprising that there’d be fewer Pastas, since Felix paid tribute to all regions of Italy with its offerings.
The Rigatoni alla Carbonara Pasta was solid. The Pastas are cooked very al dente (similar to Felix, but maybe a little more forgiving here), but definitely on the firmer side of al dente, compared to being slightly over, FYI. The Carbonara flavor? Was fine. We’ve had better Carbonara at many other places, some around town, such as Leo Bulgarini’s Carbonara (when he makes it and can source the Guanciale he likes) blows this version away. (And Mother Wolf’s version is a $40 plate of pasta.)
Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe (Pecorino Romano DOP, Black Pepper):
I’ve been obsessed with finding great Cacio e Pepe, ever since Chef Anthony Bourdain raved about it years ago on his No Reservations food show. In fact, Chef Evan Funke’s earlier iteration of this dish at his now closed Bucato was one of our favorites in L.A.
Taking a bite… it’s merely OK. It’s a simple, humble dish, so that means each aspect of it needs to be executed to the utmost. When it isn’t on point, you get Mother Wolf’s version. You taste the Pecorino Romano, the Black Pepper and the Pasta is al dente, but it doesn’t shine. It tastes heavy, a bit stodgy and by the numbers. Clearly, the issue is that Chef Funke is not personally cooking the Pasta dishes. We liked Chef Funke’s personally prepared Cacio e Pepe at Bucato far more than this version made by his assistants here.
Our first visit was during its Grand Opening period, so we wanted to come back later to see how the restaurant progressed.
Walking in, the restaurant was still as packed and loud as our first visit. You had to shout to have any conversation while dining.
Fondatore Spritz (Cocchi Americano, Blood Orange, Lambrusco):
This opening cocktail felt like it had too much Cocchi Americano in it, which made the drink far more bitter than expected.
Calabrese Pizza (Mozzarella di Bufala, Salsa di Pomodoro, Nduja, Spigarello, Peperoncino):
As before, Mother Wolf’s Pizza arrived burnt for the outer crust. The Nduja Sausage was spicy, but it didn’t have a lot of deep, meaty flavors like great Nduja Sausage can have. It was overcooked and dry in parts as well.
Misticanza di Campagna (Coleman Farms Lettuces, Herbs, Wild Greens):
Mother Wolf’s Salad (Misticanza di Campagna) was a tasty celebration of California local produce. These are the types of greens and fresh Salads we take for granted at times, and only appreciate it when we’re traveling out of state. This is a large plate of vibrant, local farmers market greens, so fresh that it tastes like it was just picked from the farm fields the day before. It’s a bit overdressed, but we appreciated it for being so fresh.
Fiori di Zucca (Squash Blossoms, Ricotta Romana DOP, Parmigiano Reggiano):
Fried Squash Blossoms are something we’ve seen Chef Funke do well at Felix, and thankfully Mother Wolf’s version is also well done. Not overly oily, fried nicely, definitely something worth an order.
(Special) Pappardelle Al Cinghiale:
On special this evening was their Pappardelle al Cinghiale, or Boar Meat Ragu with Pappardelle Pasta. This was good, but not great. The Boar Meat was cooked down to a hearty, simple, classic tasting Ragu Sauce. You actually couldn’t discern it was Boar, but beyond that, a tasty Tomato Ragu.
But that was it.
It tasted like a competently made Pasta Sauce, but it also tasted a bit straightforward and basic. It was missing that extra oomph that would take it over the edge and into the realm of soulful and deeply satisfying. And when you’re charging ~$40 for a plate of Pasta (including tax & tip), it just feels a bit overpriced for what you get.
Rigatoni All’ Amatriciana (Guanciale, Salsa di Pomodoro, Pecorino Romano DOP):
Their Rigatoni All’ Amatriciana was another competent Pasta dish. It looked wonderful, but the actual taste was again in the category of good, but not great. The Guanciale lacked the deep porcine flavor of the best Guanciale. The Pomodoro was OK, not overly acidic, but just tasting a bit one note.
Arrosticini (New Zealand Lamb Belly, Insalata di Cipollina, Lemon):
From their Secondi section of the menu, their Arrosticini features dual skewers of Grilled Lamb Belly. First, this is probably our fault for ordering Lamb Belly and expecting something balanced, but these turned out to be ~75 - 90% Fat in every bite. It was pretty off-putting after the first bite. Even with it grilled, so some of the fat was rendered, you were biting into excessive pure hunks of Lamb Fat. We didn’t finish this (and I hate wasting food).
Overall, Mother Wolf was big, loud, and bombastic in nature. The dining room din was at once full of energy (from hundreds of people, and poor sound dampening), it had a lively “grand ballroom” ambiance, but it also grew tiresome after awhile. After a couple of visits, it’s clear you have to shout to hold a conversation during dinner, the service is terrible (because there are too many tables / diners, and not enough staff, even with a small army of servers, bussers, and managers running the floor. But it was packed with people. Hats off to Chef Evan Funke for hiring enough back of the house and front of the house staff to churn out his Italian recipes, to serve that to hundreds upon hundreds of guests per night.
The system is working, but at the same time, the food suffers as a result. There were a few specific Appetizers that turned out to be the highlight of the meal. We’d come back to eat their Bruschetta di Porchetta, the Oxtail Meatballs, and Fried Squash Blossoms.
But the heart of the menu, what Chef Funke says is exploring real Roman Pizza and Pasta is a disappointment. The Pizzas are consistently burnt (black charred crust), the flavors feel like they are just ingredients thrown on some dough, and the Handmade Pastas arrive sufficiently al dente (great), but the actual Sauces and Recipes just taste like they are following instructions by the book. None of the Pastas moved us. The best Pastas we’ve had over the years have been from Chefs that cared and they drew out that extra something.
Consider the Spaghittusu cun Allu Ollu e Bottariga (Fresh Spaghetti, Spicy Garlic Oil, Salt Cured Fish Roe) from La Ciccia in San Francisco. Chef Massimiliano Conti cooks up a humble, stunning dish from his Sardinian roots. Every time we’ve had it (multiple times), it is downright stunning. No bling ingredients. Just soulful, passionate cooking. Same for so many other favorite Pasta dishes we’ve had over the years. The cooking at Mother Wolf by Chef Funke’s assistants taste like it’s a “by the book” output, churned out at high volume, like a factory. They can continue to list most of the menu in Italian, to make it sound more “exotic / add mystique,” but that doesn’t help the actual taste if it’s not well executed. There’s no passion; no inspired cooking.
To be clear, Mother Wolf’s Pastas are OK (certainly not terrible). But for the prices they are charging (we averaged about ~$125 - 150 per person each time we went), it felt like you were paying for the grand ballroom and rent for this trendy section of Hollywood. As the great Bard has said, with all the din and clanging, Mother Wolf is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
1545 Wilcox Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tel: (323) 410-6060