When people think of Italian cuisine in the St. Louis area they usually think of The Hill and many places in South City. You will no doubt find many traditional Italian restaurants in those areas, but Clayton has an Italian restaurant of its own that takes Italian cuisine into a new direction.
Modern Italian? New-Italian? Hipster Italian? There are a lot of potential ways to describe what Pastaria has to offer. With dishes like Spaghetti and Lasagna, it is indeed Italian cuisine but each dish has a modern twist to it. Their slogan is “Sorta Close to Italy”, which imparts a mindset of taking what people know of Italian food and nudging it a little bit to make something new. Take their Shaved Kale Salad for example:
Caesar salad (not named after the Roman emperor, FYI) is a common find in Italian restaurants, usually served with an anchovy dressing. Pastaria has a modern variation using kale instead. The end result is far more delicious and potentially nutritious than any caesar salad I’ve ever had. Also their Italian Ramen (which is pictured in the cover shot for this article) is another example of a modern Italian twist, featuring spaghettini instead of ramen noodles. This style of updating old classics and mixing with other cuisines and modern methods translates well into their cocktails as well.
I’m generally not the biggest fan of negronis, preferring bourbon to gin when drinking cocktails, but using the modern trend of barrel-aging cocktails to mellow out and/or enhance the flavor of a cocktail makes for a negroni I can really warm up to. The end result is a flavor not unlike a boulevardier, the negroni’s bourbon cousin.
Some of their dishes go beyond any particular cuisine and are just excellent dishes on their own. The salmon above was cooked perfectly and skin-down in a wood oven, then placed on a bed of farro, possibly the trendiest grain right now besides quinoa, along with roasted sweet potatoes, almonds, and parsley. This is a fine dish with a fish-skin crispier than anything I’ve had anywhere else. Crispy but not burnt, mind you, almost like the top layer of a perfectly made creme brulee. The fish by itself had a great texture and, combined with the flavor of the farro below it, made for a delightful experience.
Now, with all the talk of new twists on classic Italian fare, the Crispy Risotto Balls, which are also known as arancini, are more of your traditional fare. For those who do not know, arancini originate from Sicily from around the 10th century during Arab rule (or at least this is what wikipedia says). Either way, these are seriously delicious and the only problem we had with them is that there were not more of them. Incredibly creamy on the inside and a nice crisp exterior. Definitely get these for an appetizer, or even a lunch-time snack.
An even more classic dish is the Bucatini All’ Amatriciana, which they have spiced up with some chilis to give a little extra heat. Christine described the noodles as “toothsome”, which is her way of saying they were perfectly al dente (which is Latin for “to the tooth”, so her term is quite accurate). All in all it was a perfect dish with plenty of this wonderful Grana Padano cheese that really brought it all together. We brought home some and ate more of it today and it ended being way more spicy the second time around, perhaps because the chilis had time to soak into the rest of the sauce more fully.
Being a modern take on Italian cuisine, Pastaria would be remiss to not offer brunch. Brunch is probably the most popular meal of the day, especially with hipster-foodies like ourselves. We loved the delicious simplicity of their Ricotta Bruschetta, which is served like french-toast with plenty of fresh fruit and honey. A nice and simple later-morning treat.
We were a great fans of their Wood Oven Baked Eggs, which come in either an amatriciana or a pomodoro sauce. Christine got the pomodoro sauce and was not disappointed. Nothing is more fun that scooping up that flavorful, hearty sauce and rich, creamy yolks with a spoon of crunchy, thick-cut toast. So good and such a great way to start the day.
This was an interesting item, essentially a giant pancake served still in the pan. I do not know Italian cuisine well enough to state whether or not this is something you might find in Italy, but it was a decent though perhaps a little dry. Adding loads of syrup helped a lot, plus I got mine with a huge slab of pork belly which was tender and nicely fatty.
I have to add that their are so many other options on the menu that we have yet to try, including their wood-oven fired pizzas, which fellow food blogger Whiskey and Soba has captured in his excellent post here: Whiskey and Soba Pastaria article.
Is a visit to Pastaria going to give you a taste of Italy? Not quite, but it will give you something different that you most likely will not find anywhere else. It can get super noisy and crowded, mind you, but it’s not as bad as some other places we have visited before. It’s a great place and if you have not been there then, as always, we encourage to check them out at least once. I have not heard anyone yet complain after a visit here.
- Pros: Standard Italian cuisine given a modern twist. Everything is delicious!
- Cons: Interior can get seriously noisy and can get kind of cramped when full.
- Charlie’s Favorites: Wood Oven Roasted Salmon, Italian Ramen, Barrel Aged Negroni
- Christine’s Favorites: Shaved Kale Salad, Bucatini All’ Amatriciana, Crispy Risotto Balls
I forgot to include this picture of their wonderful gelato! They have a full gelato bar with all sorts of amazing flavors. Some of the best in town! Also, we went again to take some new photos and tried the Italian Ramen. OMG! This is an incredible dish! Get it next time you’re in if you’ve never tried it.