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Pasta Flyer

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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.

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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.

 

Other than the prices--although back around 2000, you did get a meal for $10 or $12--and the lack of the wondrous "quick-cook pasta-makers," that pretty much describes Lamarca. (Well, maybe Lamarca makes its own sauces, IDK. But many sauces are cooked in batches in lots of places.)

 

Maybe the advantage at Pasta Flyer is that it's open weekends.

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Well, Pasta Fryer doesn't, it's just store bought dry pasta with what seems to be Sbarro-like sauces.

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That’s not to say people are going to flock into Pasta Flyer expecting Ladner’s famous spaghetti with crab and jalapenos or his whole wheat tonnarelli with bonito flakes. But it would be fun if Ladner gave us a few pastas with a touch of innovation, or if he found a way to elevate a few noodle classics just like how Shake Shack managed to elevate the fast food burger into a viral sensation.

Instead, he’s given us spaghetti with a tomato sauce that packs little acidity or character, though the porky meatballs are otherworldly. He’s given us penne with meat Bolognese so neutral that I’m not quite sure I actually tasted any meat. He’s given us fettuccine Alfredo that tastes like any other fettucine Alfredo. He’s given us a very good wedding pasta station.

New Yorkers don’t want wedding pasta. New Yorkers want Mark [bleeping] Ladner pasta. And New Yorkers sure as shaving cream want the fast-casual movement to stop stealing our best chefs.Ryan Sutton

 

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Its something that you put uncooked pasta into and it comes out cooked a couple of minutes later. (I'm assuming they're not using fresh pasta.)

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The only way I know you can put not-fresh pasta into a cooker and have it come out fully cooked in a few minutes is to parcook it and let it dry again. (But then, I'm not Mark Ladner who knows some sort of magic.) Lots of places go the par-cook, cook, then throw it into boiling water for a couple of minutes and voilà, "freshly cooked" pasta. That's how instant ramen work.

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When I was an undergrad, the poetry editor at The Advocate took me to a 'trattoria' between Harvard and Central Squares that was really just an open kitchen and counter, serving perpetually boiling pots of pasta and pretty respectable sauces. A pasta dish cost about $10, and I suspect was superior to Pasta Flyer in quantity and quality, but this was two decades ago. I found myself eating there every week, especially when I wanted to get away from students [the clientele were mostly Cambridge police, firemen, and the like]. The pasta was DeCecco [probably my first experience with the brand], not homemade.

 

My question is, presuming a steady stream of customers, why is this quick-cook pasta necesary? Pasta Flyer doesn't offer many pasta shapes, so it shouldn't be too difficult to have all the pastas constantly being served during standard meal times. At other times, well, you can wait a few minutes for real pasta, no [i mean it can take me 5+ minutes to receive a McDo' or BK burger these days]? Plenty of sauces can be long simmered too.

 

I expect Ladner would earn from a Pasta Flyer IPO a very large multiple of his income at a Michelin-starred kitchen.

 

Anyhow, I almost tried Pasta Flyer last week, when I was in the Village flat and wondering what to eat at a late hour, but I couldn't recall if it had opened, nor when it was supposed to close.

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Whenever I visit Indianapolis, I dine at Noodles & Company, and I admit I rather like it. Definitely prefer it to most fast-casual chains. I wonder how it compares to Pasta Flyer.

 

[Aside from Shake Shack, almost every successful fast-casual company seems to have started in the Midwest or Colorado. I suspect the odds are against Pasta Flyer, especially given the competition.]

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