By Anna Merlan
By Albert Samaha
By Tessa Stuart
By Anna Merlan
By Roy Edroso
By Carolyn Hughes
By Chuck Strouse
By Albert Samaha
What I'm thinking When a restaurant decides to concentrate on pasta, it's always a good idea to put the word "pasta" in the name to avoid any confusion. If a place has the word "pasta" right in front of grill, café, cucina and -eria, you don't expect to get cheeseburgers there. Here, they named the place twice: Pasta Pasta. The original owner also opened Salsa Salsa around the corner. This guy would do well in New York, New York.
Casing the joint About three months ago, Pasta Pasta pushed into a storefront next door, doubling the size of the 8-year-old restaurant. Half the new room is filled with eight tables or so and the other half is a waiting room with wicker couches and chairs and several tables for two along both walls. On the night of the first World Series game we wait along with four or five other parties for our tables to be readied. This is where a bar would be if the state liquor authority allowed one this close to a church. A bar with a TV with a game. But there is beer and wine, which a waitress finally begins to take orders for by circulating through the growing crowd as if this were a cocktail party, only without the cocktails. We aren't the only ones wondering why so much space was dedicated to this lounge area. Had they elected to buy more tables instead of couches, we could have been seated at the time our reservation called for.
In their bigger incarnations, the rooms are still inviting and cozy. Maybe even romantic. The noise level is low and so are the lights. I remove the cute little shade from the lamp on our table in order to read the menu. The bottom of the menu cautions: think TWICE before answering your cellular phone!!" These people are big believers in thinking twice (see name of restaurant).
What we ate A delicious crusty loaf of bread with a surprise ribbon of roasted garlic inside hits the table. The chef changes the bread innards daily, according to whim. Our waitress resembles a younger, slimmer Tipper Gore and memorizes our order. The menu is divided between starters, brick-oven pizza, pasta and no-pasta selections. For starters, we order the pot of baby clams steamed with garlic, butter and white wine ($8.50). Sure enough, it arrives as a black cauldron with a dozen or so bivalves bathed in savory broth. The bread quickly gets baptized. The portabella mushroom stuffed with Alaskan crab meat ($8.50) is large and infused with the bold flavors of ginger and cilantro.
Perhaps the restaurant has a reason for serving each dish with different shapes of pasta. But it's what's on the pasta that really counts, isn't it? The cavatelli ($14) are longish shells covered with sweet sausage, spinach, roasted bites of eggplant, thick plum-tomato sauce and shaved romano cheese. Angel hair pasta ($15) comes with chicken, bits of pepperoni, fresh mozzarella and garlic. Both are outstanding. We're mmm-ing as we eat, always a good sign. One of four seafood pastas, penne with sauteed shrimp, scallops, chicken and andouille sausage ($17), is another winner. Meat lovers can get filet mignon on crisp gnocchi ($22). There's also a blackened filet mignon pizza ($12), veal chops ($26) and rack of lamb ($18). When a place is named Pasta Pasta I don't order pizza pizza. As it is, I keep hearing that Little Caesar's dude going "Pasta Pasta" in my head.
Vegetarian alert With choices like these, you may never eat tempeh again. Penne comes with either artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, shittake mushrooms, plum tomatoes and scallions in a garlic olive oil sauce ($15) or in marsala wine with basil, sautéed plum tomatoes and fresh mozzarella if you're still eating dairy. Broccoli rabe and garlic jumbo ravioli are covered with plum tomatoes and asparagus ($14). There's also a grilled vegetable pizza topped with mozzarella ($12.50).
Cavity patrol The cheesecake of the day ($6.50) is apple crumb. It's light and incredibly good. Fruit with zambaglione also gets my vote.
Damage With pastas in the $15 range and appetizers about half that, your meal will top out over $22.