Mark Ladner made me pasta the other night.
That consisted of his getting a pre-portioned cup of pasta out of a refrigerator, unsealing it, and tossing it into a hole in the counter that apparently led to a quick pasta-cooker. That tells the story of this restaurant.
Pasta Flyer is the first of what is obviously intended to be a chain of fast-casual pasta restaurants. Pastas are around $8. For $10, you get a pasta, condiments, a side dish, and a drink -- an excellent deal.
You get your choice out of a few pasta shapes, and out of a few toppings (tomato sauce, pesto, alfredo, meatballs: you get the picture). The mass-produced sauces sit in trays next to the pasta station, and are ladeled on after the pasta is cooked. The quick-cook pasta-makers are a wonder: it only takes a couple of minutes for your order to be filled.
So this place is a good deal. The food tastes alright. The price is right.
It's also a deplorable waste of talent. Mark Ladner was one of the top Italian chefs in America. You can argue that it's morally superior to cook for a mass of people than for a privileged few at an expensive restaurant. But I think that's bullshit. You don't need a chef like Ladner to conceive of and produce this food. Any competent food director could do it. I'm not saying Ladner is doing this for the money (although if the chain takes off it will make him rich beyond dreams of avarice). I'm willing to believe he wants to bring healthy food of a decent quality to a mass clientele at a fair price. I just think it's deplorable that he's wasting his tremendous talent to do it. Again, you don't have to be Mark Ladner to create this food.
One thing I'll give Pasta Flyer: it's not perpetrating the cynical Parm scam of opening up an initial flagship that doesn't mass-produce the food, building a reputation, and then shifting food production to a commissary when the chain expands. No, this food seems to be what Pasta Flyer's food will be like when the chain goes mass. They're not trying to fool anyone. The food is basically mediocre: cheap as it is, there's no reason to eat it. I'd rather grab a good slice somewhere.