Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sugoi Basta Pasta

We saw the Italian menu in the window, then we saw the Kanji sign in the doorway, and we were a bit hesitant because in the past we weren't too thrilled with Japanese/Italian fusion restaurants, which always seemed like a discombobulated mess. But the restaurant looked quaint and it was crowded with customers, so we thought we’d give it a shot. To think we could have walked right past this little gem!

When we walked into Basta Pasta (on 37 W. 17), we received “irashaimase” from the all Japanese-speaking staff. On our first visit, we chose to sit at the bar and eat, which ended up being a great decision because we had the most fantastic bartender we’ve ever met in our lives – Misa, from Japan, had a sincere sweetness about her and was extremely polite and attentive to our needs. The bar was stocked with various olives and breads, and we were impressed with the lovely presentation and clean details.

Our first experience at Basta Pasta was so great we couldn't wait to go back. On our second visit, we sat in their charming (and very busy) dining room.

Basta Pasta is one of the most interesting Italian restaurant we've ever encountered. It's been in business in this same Chelsea spot for about 20 years and it sells authentic Italian food, but has some Japanese influences in its dishes, and is owned and operated by Japanese chefs. The friendly and welcoming staff were all Japanese, and most of their customers were also Japanese. The restaurant was very busy and we watched as people were turned away, but we didn't have problems getting a seat in the dining area on a Saturday night without reservations.

So the restaurant is cute, it's clean, the service is excellent. But let's get down to the best part of Basta Pasta - their food, starting with this tiny wonder snack. It's a toast cracker with cheese spread. Sounds like nothing special, right? Absolutely wrong. This fantastic gorgonzola spread was mixed with something that I unfortunately can't remember what it was. The spread was so delicious! We have to go back to get the recipe from Misa. The cheese spread was creamy but had an almost whisphy, airy quality to it. They only give one per person and it’s small, which you can’t complain about because it’s free, but I’d seriously pay for a whole appetizer plate of these. It got to the point where I'd look around the tables by us and think "I don't think she's going to eat it, perhaps the waiter can bring us their half-eaten piece."

At this point, we had high hopes for the main pasta dishes. And wow, we ordered one of the best pasta dishes we've ever tried: Farfalle con Salmone e Crema is a bow tie pasta with lightly smoked salmon, cauliflower and tomatoes in tarragon grain mustard cream sauce ($15). This dish was oooh la la. Normally I prefer tomato sauce over cream/white sauces because I love red sauce on anything (ketchup lover), and because cream sauces are usually too rich. But Basta Pasta's cream sauce wasn't heavy at all, sprinkled lightly with cheese. The salmon tasted equally delicate, not too “fishy” and not too salty. This was a winner! The only bad thing was that there seemed to be a hole in the dish - the food suddenly disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared.

Their Crespelle con Funghi e Ricotta (homemade silk handkerchief pasta with mixed mushrooms, lemon zest, and ricotta cheese, $16) was absolutely delizioso! Really delicate and lovely!

Their Spaghetti with Parmigiana Reggiano and Parma Prosciutto is served in a large half wheel of Parmesan Cheese at the table. This was a crowd pleaser, since everyone around us seemed to have ordered this. I think people just liked watching the waiters take out the noodles from the cheese-on-steroids (like an over-sized gift box made out of cheese). It looked so decadent when the waiter took the spoon in the cheese to get the cheese sauce, then drizzled the creamy portion of the cheese on top of the already cheese-laden pasta, and then topped off the pasta with large prosciutto slices.

Some of their other menu items include: Linguine with fresh sea urchin and basil in pink sauce; Homemade taglionlini with Chilean sea bass ragu and shredded zucchini in spicy tomato sauce; Orecchiette with free range chicken ragu and sliced proscuitto; Homemade pappardelle with eggplant, basil and fresh tomatoes in tapenade sauce; Risotto with oysters, lemon confit and proscuitto pangratatto; Charcoal grilled Naiman ranch pork loin with mustard green, paprika paste, prosciutto pangrattato & olive flake; and Charcoal grilled rib-eye steak with Gorgonzola onion gratin & roasted garlic.

The chefs cook the dishes right in front of you in the open kitchen, near the bar and the front area of the dining room. What a clever idea – for customers that were only thinking of getting one glass of wine at the bar after work, probably can’t resist the intoxicating scent of meat, fish, and spices, then add the visual stimulation, and you're like putty in their hands. Their refrigerators are also at the front of the restaurant and look like a lumber jack's subzero fridge (as shown on the home page of their website).

They have a simple yet nice selection of wine and cocktails. They even have one sake and Sapporo. By the way, this is what their menus look like. They look like they were drawn by the chef's kids. Again, very quaint. These little details add to their unique appeal.

Although summer has past, their Sangria is still a must! Probably the fourth best Sangria I've tasted. It's refreshing and lightly flavored so it complements their delicate pastas perfectly, strangely even more so than wine.

They even do their desserts with a light hand. Their Cream Caramel tasted almost fluffy, and arigato to them for the generous amount of caramel.

They tend to mix up their menus, including their desserts. So although we couldn't try their creme brulee yet (next time), we had the pleasure of trying their tasty crepe which ended up tasting almost like creme brulee. This crepe was very unique. It came with earl grey tea gelatin, apple gelatin like substance, caramelized almonds, vanilla filling and the top was coated with a caramelized hardness of a crème brulee.

This is what each dish we tried at Basta Pasta looked like after about 10-15 minutes. No exaggeration. This is a sign of full satisfaction. We love Basta Pasta!