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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.
LaRina is nice little pasta-and-wine spot that opened on Myrtle Avenue in Fort Greene. It's a neighborhood place -- but a quite good one. What I like about it is that the cooking is fresh, imaginative, and light. You don't see the same too-heavy rustic Italian dishes they serve at every trattoria in every neighborhood in the City. These are all freshly conceived -- and very deftly so. The cooking is deft, too. (Surprisingly so for a place like this.) I started with a pea and farro salad, which was nice. Then the rye fazzoletti with ramp pesto and burrata, which was more than nice, the sheets of pasta bathed in a flavorful pesto that nevertheless wasn't overly rich. Then, perhaps the biggest surprise: the octopus in basil pesto (I guess it was pesto night for me), a dish I was sure would be boring but was beautifully composed (nice complementary flavors and textures) and beautifully cooked. The place this seems most like to me is Lilia -- but I like this place better; I think Missy Robbins's cooking at Lilia is too heavy-handed. On the other, there's nothing that this place does that Faro doesn't do better. But (remember: "neighborhood" spot) I can't walk to and from Farro (I mean, I can -- but it's a schlep). If you happen to live or otherwise find yourself in the neighborhood, though, this is a solid recommendation. COMP DISCLOSURE: An amaro.