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Thank hospitality majordomo Danny Meyer and his 152 (and counting) locations of Shake Shack for inspiring scores of fine-dining chefs and restaurateurs to take a crack at serving high-quality fast food. For the past decade, empire-building food personalities like Bobby Flay (owner of several burger “palaces”), David Chang (of fried chicken sandwich chain Fuku), and José Andrés (who owns the vegetable-focused chain Beefsteak), have all lent their reputations to this increasingly popular market. In the last year alone, we’ve seen Meyer look to strike gold twice with Roman pizzeria Martina, while Daniel Humm and Will Guidara launched Made Nice, which synthesizes the fancy signature dishes from their world-renowned restaurants Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad for the masses – like an affordable version of the latter’s brioche-stuffed chicken that swaps foie gras and truffles for lemon and Parmesan.
Mark Ladner rose to prominence as the driving force behind several Batali-Bastianich kitchens, most notably racking up accolades as the executive chef of Del Posto until his departure two years ago. In October, after several years of development and fine-tuning, he and partner Nastassia Lopez opened Pasta Flyer, the first of what they hope will become a chain of nebulously intergalactic-themed Italian noodle shops. They’re not the only ones with star-shaped pastina in their eyes: quick-service Italian restaurants are on the rise. In addition to competing with newcomers like the Sosta and Bigoi Venezia and big dogs like Parm and the Meatball Shop, Lopez and Ladner coincidentally share a street address with six-year-old takeout spot Meatball Obsession.
The flagship location occupies a loft-like space along the northern reaches of Greenwich Village that juxtaposes quirky UFO imagery with Mediterranean rusticity for a cheery aesthetic that’s part moon landing, part moon-meets-your-eye. Although it’s designed with speed and convenience in mind with an assembly line setup, Pasta Flyer exudes earnest oddball character rather than looking like yet another sterilized corporate cafeteria. One wall of the dining area is painted sunset pink, stalks of wheat rise from behind the paisley print-upholstered banquettes, and a flying saucer-esque light fixture looms over the long communal table in the middle of the room. Imagine attending a casual dinner party thrown by your Arthur Avenue-dwelling friend who got really inspired by their vacation to Roswell, New Mexico.
While in charge of Del Posto, Ladner’s culinary feats included making hundred-layer lasagna and his own gluten-free dough. At Pasta Flyer, the menu of pastas and sauces ($7-$8.75), which you can mix and match to your liking, intentionally adheres to the simple and traditional – the kinds of meals you’d whip up for dinner on a weeknight. It’s the way they come together that’s remarkable. By flash-freezing premium-quality imported Italian noodles, the 48-year-old chef has cut his cook time from minutes to seconds without sacrificing textural integrity. To his credit, he’s reliably turned pasta into fast food. Full orders come together in under three minutes. And honestly, if I made a fusilli tossed with nutty, zippy basil pesto as emerald-green and balanced as the one here I’d be tempted to post it to Instagram. Fettucine alfredo, meanwhile, is buttery and cheesy without going overboard. Sturdy tubes of wholewheat rigatoni sluiced in “nonna’s meat ragu,” which is made in the Tuscan vein with pork, beef, carrots, porcini mushrooms, rosemary, and red wine, reminded me of the kind of the coarse, rustic meat sauces I grew up eating (for the record, I’d give dad the upper hand). Only the meatballs, which can err on the side of spongy, are a bit of a letdown. And besides, Ladner’s nicely acidic marinara pooled around al dente spaghetti stands on its own.
Pasta Flyer isn’t necessarily meant to be a date spot, but it’s certainly much nicer and more comfortable, aesthetically speaking, than when White Castle goes all out for Valentine’s Day. The wallet-friendly booze is a boon, too. Beers cost $6 and wines – including cans of Ramona, the tart grapefruit wine spritz owned by fellow fine-dining expat and former Momofuku beverage director Jordan Salcito – are $7. And I’m especially glad that Ladner’s joined his former pastry chef, Brooks Headley—owner of wildly popular vegetarian fast food joint Superiority Burger—in channeling his more creative impulses into off-menu specials like arugula-shrouded spaghetti dotted with tender rock shrimp, and side dishes ($2.50-$4) that run the gamut from peppery broccoli rabe under dollops of fresh ricotta to airy, savory “garlic dots” made from fried choux pastry, and crisp, burnished wedges of deep-fried lasagna. Headley would likely also be proud of Pasta Flyer’s sole dessert, a $3 duo of tiramisu-inspired cannoli made with brittle browned shells flown in from Palermo, their sides blooming with billows of coffee-infused mascarpone. For just a few bucks, they soar.
510 6th Avenue