While home for winter break, I had the pleasure of dining at Chef Gerard Craft's latest addition to the St. Louis restaurant scene: Pastaria. Despite the staggering wait, it was completely worth it! Craft's restaurants have helped fuel a burgeoning St. Louis restaurant scene with their strong menu options, fresh ingredients, creative recipes, and commitment to specific ambiances. I love the French feel to Brasserie with the brown papered tables and bread station in the center of the restaurant, which made me very excited to check out Pastaria. With large windows facing the street, I was interested in seeing how the space maintained a warm, family feel, which Craft told several area magazines he intended for the space. As soon as I walked up to the large windows and saw a man feeding fresh noodles through a pasta machine, I knew I was in for a treat. After waiting at the bar for a table, during which time I got to choose from a small but solid list of local beers. The restaurant itself is more or less one large room with a bar on one side, an open kitchen along the back wall, and a gelato station towards the front. In one corner is the pasta preparation station. There are also seats facing the open kitchen, which would give a diner a fun perspective! The rows of simple wooden tables and high ceilings keep the restaurant feeling like a family-eatery and unpretentious. On each table, are small dishes of salt and olive oil. In the center of the restaurant, similar to Brasserie, is a table garnished with a floral arrangement and vintage kitchen equipment where bread is divvied up before heading to the individual tables.
For starters, we tried the crispy risotto balls. The breading had a nice crunch but was not tough or too heavy, caving into the cheesy center with the first bite. The balls were filled with creamy mozzarella and sharper, grainer Grana Padano. The balls were served with a delicious, simple marinara sauce and an aioli. They were a great starter! We also had the shaved kale salad, which was essentially an epic Caesar salad. The finely chopped kale gave the salad a hearty, rich, filling taste that is often absent in a basic romaine lettuce Caesar. The salad was simply kale, breadcrumbs and Pecorino, tossed in a creamy, anchovy-based dressing. The nutty flavor of the Pecorino complimented the kale's strong flavor, the creamy dressing downplayed both of the strong flavors and the acidity in the dressing brought it all together perfectly.
For my meal, I was blown away by the pistachio ravioli. The noodles were very fresh tasting and you could tell they were made in house by the delicate manner they were sealed. They were filled with slightly nutty and somewhat creamy Grana Padano, which packed a flavor 20 times greater than your basic ricotta ravioli. They were then covered in brown-butter based sauce. It was a simple brown-butter lemon sauce with mint and crushed pistachios. It was a unique and perfect blend of flavors. The nuttiness of the brown butter paired well with the Grana and the lemon cut the creaminess. The fresh, cool flavor of the mint brought out more depths of flavor in the cheese and sauce. The pistachios had a crunch which added a unique textural element to the dish as well as a subtly sweet flavor. I could not get enough! Someone else at the table ordered the Chitarra al Pomodoro: spaghetti with tomato sauce. The spaghetti was al dente and the sauce was fresh and flavor with a basic combination of tomatoes, garlic and basil. The use of fresh ingredients allowed the pasta dishes to be simple yet full of flavor. I also had the chance to try the pizza from someone else at my table. The crust was a mix of Neapolitan and thin crust. In an authentic Italian way, the crust was thicker around the outside and softer, more delicate in the center. Yet, it wasn't overly soft in the center requiring a fork and knife, lending itself to a perfect fold and eat. The Roman pizza I tried had a moderate amount of basic tomato garlic sauce, mozzarella and Pecorino cheeses. The real stars of the pizza was chili and bacon. The bacon was salty and wonderful, due to Craft's curing of his own meats. The chili on the pizza gave it a great kick at the end with a subtly growing spiciness, which the next bites of tart tomato, sweet crust and salty bacon helped cover. Until the next kick of chili. Every dish was delicious!
For dessert, we obviously knew we needed to try some of the fresh gelato. I have a minor hidden obsession with goat cheese and beet ice cream, so when I saw they were serving a beet gelato with a Manouri cheese. Manouri is basically a Greek goat cheese, creamy and sweet. I love beet and goat cheese ice cream for the sweetness of the beets and cheese and the way it pairs with the creaminess of the ice cream. The gelato was pretty great. I also tried the carmel gelato, their most popular flavor. We also tried the tiramisu, which was great.
Overall, the meal was great, the ambiance was full of energy yet unpretentious and inviting. It was definitely worth the wait for one of the best vibes I've felt from a restaurant in a while and some of the most delicious pasta I've had this side of the Atlantic, or at least the Mississippi.