My wife recently started a job as a photographer for a rather large St. Louis publication. One of the perks of her job is that she has the opportunity to visit some excellent local restaurants and shoot their food. This has been awesome in two main ways thus far:
1. We have had some amazing leftovers brought home over the last two months. Last night we had grilled jumbo shrimp seasoned with garlic and herbs, a cauliflower cake (surprisingly good), a marvelous angel hair pasta dish, and prosciutto wrapped fontina cheese.*
*We tried to sell the last item as a bacon wrapped cheese stick to the children. They found the prosciutto to be too salty and both rejected it. This meant more for the lovely wife and I. Hooray!
2. It has allowed us to learn about new local restaurants that we would like to try. Last week she had the opportunity to photograph Pastaria, and came home raving about it. So, when the opportunity arose for us to go out on our own Friday night, our plans were set.
First off, let me say I have never tried any of Gerard Craft’s other restaurants in the St. Louis area. I know Niche, Brasserie, and Taste are all very well regarded locally and nationally, and I look forward to trying each when I get the chance. His reputation and the quality of the food served at Pastaria certainly help explain the crowd that was to be found there on Friday night.
Overall, I really enjoyed the energy of the whole restaurant. I liked the combination of rustic and modern touches in the decor. We had red-checkered tablecloths and my wife sat on what looked like an old church pew. However, this is contrasted with the large open space, open kitchen and modern lighting touches in the restaurant.
Surprisingly, I also enjoyed the closeness between fellow diners. We were basically sharing a table with the couple next to us, and although I was initially uncomfortable, I enjoyed the feeling of a shared experience. Also, I think seating diners close together helps keep conversation civil.* They certainly were having a polite, pleasant discussion, and I feel that it encouraged Sarah and I to keep things light, airy, and fun as well. We needed that this month. Additionally, you get to see clearly what your neighbors ordered, which was the primary reason I ordered tiramisu for dessert (which I hardly ever do in a restaurant). Well played Mr. Craft, well played.
*Restaurant tables and booths are NOT private confessionals. My wife and I overheard a rather loud conversation at the Melting Pot several years back that prevented us from having any discussion at all. It was fascinating, but awkward for everyone.
With all that said, it’s on to the food. I really love when something simple is done extraordinarily well. Pasta is certainly simple. Flour, water, salt. Boom. Pasta. However, making and cooking excellent fresh pasta is an art. I feel that Mr. Craft and the staff at Pastaria have done an outstanding job in demonstrating how good simple pasta dishes can be.
We started by ordering an appetizer of crispy risotto balls. These bite sized morsels arrived piping hot, were covered with breadcrumbs and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Initially I liked dipping them in the aioli rather than the pomodoro sauce, but our waiter suggested combining the sauces. My last ball received this treatment. It almost made me order a second round of these delightful crispy on the outside-creamy on the inside treats.
Choosing our entrees was a bit difficult. I had checked out the menu earlier that afternoon,and I knew I wanted the Papardelle pasta served with smoked pork, mascarpone cheese, and apples. I was initially a little concerned by apples in pasta, but I am a complete sucker for the words “smoked pork” and felt that I couldn’t go wrong. Sarah had a hard time deciding between the pistachio ravioli which she had photographed the day before and the gargenelli, a tubular pasta served with braised beef and olives. However, upon our excellent waiter’s description of the dish, we went with the gargenelli.
The papardelle was amazing. Wide flat noodles carrying a creamy tomato sauce with finely shredded pork that had a burst of smoky flavor. Thinly sliced granny smith (I think) apples provided a nice contrast in both taste and texture.
I also had several bites of the gargenelli. Here the braised beef was a real star. It had a bold meaty flavor that held up well with the thicker tubes of pasta. Also, there was a burst of citrus flavor in the meat that brightened the whole dish. We ended up boxing up some of this dish with the intent of eating it on Saturday. Once home, it didn’t make it till Midnight.
After seeing our close neighbors order dessert, we decided to splurge as well. This is made easier by the gelato bar located in the restaurant. Our waiter told us we could go on up and sample gelato before we made our dessert order.
After two samples each, the lovely wife decided to go with the salted caramel, while I decided that although the gelato was excellent, I had to try that tiramisu our fellow guests had ordered.
My one and only complaint comes with our dessert order. While I was promptly brought a generous helping of tiramisu by another staff member, my wife’s gelato sat there in plain sight for about five minutes waiting to be brought to our table. I told a staff member, who promptly discarded that gelato, served a fresh bowl, brought it to our table, and apologized for the inconvenience.
Interestingly, eating gelato is a remarkable cure for any frustrations you may have had moments before.
The tiramisu had very delicate layers of ladyfingers with one of the airiest cheese fillings I have had. It was a very refreshing way to end the meal…except that Sarah couldn’t finish her smooth, creamy, gelato. I was happy to oblige.
Overall, we left Pastaria feeling well fed, and well taken care of by the staff. If you find yourself in Clayton looking for a simple yet satisfying meal, Pastaria is waiting for you.