You’ll feel right at home at Gerard Craft’s new casual-chic Italian spot.
One of the first things you see when you enter Pastaria is the gelato case over to the left. Take note, because you will want to save room. This will not be easy. That isn’t because Nonna’s family recipes are heavy on the meats and the sauces. No, the
new Italian restaurant from Gerard Craft is all about light, simple dishes. Some of the sauces are barely even visible—like the olive oil, garlic and chili on
guitar-string chitarra. Surprising, perhaps, until the first bite, when you realize that with ingredients this flavorful, a little goes a long way. And then you start to covet
samples of the other dishes at your table, or order another appetizer…there goes the room for gelato.
Craft’s minimalist approach was influenced by daily family life in Italy. One towering wall at the Clayton restaurant is filled with snapshots from the travels he and his staff took in preparation for Pastaria’s much-anticipated opening. The award-winning chef is a three-time finalist for the James Beard Best Chef: Midwest title, which has established him securely on the local and national culinary scenes. Still, for much of Pastaria’s first month, he was right there on the line, sliding pizzas into the wood-fired oven or helping set up more tables. Craft also spent time next door, supervising the finishing touches on the new Niche location.
What You Came For There are a couple of meat entrées on the menu, and eight Neapolitan-style pizzas with textbook thin, tender crusts. While we love the attention and creativity that went into them—one even comes with Brussels sprouts (and guanciale, because everything’s better with bacon)—the pasta rules.
Many of the noodles have unfamiliar names, in part because the kitchen constantly tweaks the menu so the shapes are perfectly paired with the sauces. For example, on one visit torchio (meaning torch) had just been added to the menu because its open-ended whorl allowed more air to reach the braised beef, green olives and parsley-lemon gremolata, thus heightening their flavors. Ravioli, of course, is ubiquitous, but the Pastaria version was stuffed with a very fine pistachio paste and served in a mint-lemon-brown-butter sauce with chunks of pistachio scattered about. Vegetables play a starring role in the pasta dishes, especially the lasagna. They also shine on the side, from shaved kale salad to roasted Brussels sprouts.
Grapes, hopes and Sweets As long as you’re learning new vocabulary for pasta shapes, spend some time on the back of the menu with the grapes. Garganega, for example, is a common white wine from northern Italy. Falanghina, on the other hand, is an old Roman-era white varietal from the Naples area on Italy’s southern end. Geographically, just about every part of Italy is represented, including the island of Sicily and the Adriatic coastal region of Marche, a lesser-known but high-quality wine producer. By-the-glass options reflect Italy’s vinicultural diversity—a much cheaper option than a passport stamp.
There are Italian beers, too, though only one, Peroni, is among the dozen on draft. Mostly those are local microbrews, a couple of which show up in dishes from time to time, like the Urban Chestnut Zwickel in a plum gelato—which brings us back to the house-made gelato. Craft’s family friendly vision for Pastaria includes birthday cake on the kid’s menu, which normally would have lured my boys immediately… but not after they saw the gelato case. Many customers wander over for samples, which only makes the decision harder, since everything from the vanilla bean to the basil to the salt caramel bursts with flavor.
Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg