Thursday, September 20, 2012

pastaria - clayton, mo
7734 forsyth boulevard
clayton, mo 63105

while plans for chef/restauranteur gerard craft's pastaria were made official last fall, an italian restaurant is something that has been a long time coming for the chef. back in 2010, craft went public with a plan that would entirely restructure his restaurant empire, which at the time consisted of his flagship establishment niche along with the adjacent cocktail bar known as taste and french restaurant brasserie. the plan would see taste bar moving to the central west end next door to brasserie and niche moving into the former taste space and reconcepting as a tasting menu only restaurant allowing craft to presumably take his cuisine to new limits. as for niche's space, a restaurant exploring the cooking of northern italy dubbed porano was planned to open. as someone who really enjoys craft's food, long tasting menus, and northern italian cuisine, this plan was incredibly exciting for me. however, due to a number of issues including a bit of resistance from niche regulars, the plan (with the exception of taste moving to the cwe) was scrapped a few months after the initial announcement. six months later it was announced that craft would be opening pastaria at a then undisclosed location. the restaurant was slated to debut in the spring of 2012, however after experiencing the typical delays that most new restaurants have to deal with, pastaria officially opened to the public on 9/14/12.

our visit was six days after opening night, with carrie and i along with my parents arriving at the restaurant at around 6:30pm. no reservations are taken for parties less that six, and we were quoted a 1-1.5 hour wait to be seated. disappointed but more than willing to stick it out, we settled in and browsed over the menu to pass the time. as pictured above, pastria has a nice array of soups/salads/appetizers serving as a precursor to the pizzas, pastas, and entrees. as we waited, i noticed gerard craft was in house, and saw him doing everything from schmoozing with guests to making pizzas. after about an hour of waiting, our name was finally called and we were led to a four top near the restaurants open kitchen.
pastaria has a small but focused wine list with many italian offerings, most priced at less than $50. as usual the wine selection was left to me, and i chose a bottle of 2009 vietti nebbiolo. fruity yet spicy, the wine was a hit with the entire family.
having had plenty of time to look the menu over prior to our seating, it did not take long for us to make our selections. arriving so quickly that my first instinct was that the runner had the wrong table was our order of risotto balls and a margherita pizza. served with a pomodoro sauce along with a bright and tangy herb aioli, these were essentially arancini. crispy and cheesy as expected, these went very quickly.
as for the pizza, we opted to try a standard margherita as i figured going simple would be the best way to truly judge the pie. the pizza is sort of like a neapolitan style with a chewy yet a slighly charred crust, but lacks a wet center which i believe is a requirement to truly be considered neapolitan. this was ok with me however, as the slices were not droopy making for an easy eating expeirence. the toppings were excellent with the prevalent notes of basil shining through the tangy sauce and mild cheese. overall an excellent pizza that ranks highly amongst others in st. louis.
bread service followed the pizza and consisted of a single slice of focaccia for each diner. to go with the bread was a standard olive oil offering along with a spicy chili version.
for my pasta, i knew the moment i saw pappardelle with smoked pork shank, apples, and mascarpone that i had found my selection. while the pasta itself was well executed and quite tasty, the smoked pork was a true showstopper, possessing an unexpected sweetness (along with smoky savor) that took this dish from very good to absolutely incredible.
for carrie choosing a pasta was also very easy as she selected the pistachio ravioli without hesitation. we had both had a rendition of this dish at niche years ago, and pastaria's take did great justice to that fond memory.
to go with our pastas, the family shared a bowl of brussel sprouts which were excellent.
to end the meal, a variety of gelato was ordered including chocolate, pistachio, basil, and salted caramel. i can't stress this point enough...if you go to pastaria, you MUST try the gelato as all four flavor we ordered were stunning in both texture and flavor. if pressed to pick a favorite, it would probably have to be the basil. what made this so amazing was that while it was remarkably accurate in flavor it was not overpowering whatsoever. on the way out i also sampled the goat cheese offering and will definitely be ordering an entire serving next time around.

if it wasn't made obvious in the borderline gushing paragraphs above, i feel that pastaria is a huge success. everybody at our table loved all of the food and i really couldn't believe how well the restaurant was running after only being open for a few days. aside from the long wait (which was to be expected given our arrival time and the hype around the restaurant), everything went very smoothly with no issues with service or food timing or temperature. i will also note here that the pricing at pastaria is extremely reasonable, and give the location and chef craft's reputation he could easily be charging more. with lunch service on the horizon and the ability to order gelato to go at any time, pastaria might just become carrie and i's most visited restaurant in st. louis.
Pastaria on Urbanspoon