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Restaurants & Bars 44

PastaBar PHX

silverbear | Feb 24, 2009 01:49 PM

The Noca pastrami thread was veering into PastaBar territory, so, as suggested, let's have a separate thread about it.

I went to PB last weekend with my wife, my mother-in-law, and my daughter.

The pros:

-- I love how PB fits into an evolving restaurant row along with neighbors Sens, the Turf, Breadfruit, and Matt's Big Breakfast.
-- I love the speakeasy feel along the lines of Kaz Bar (although that may also prove a challenge for the restaurant); You really have to know where you're going to find it (or else ask the valet attendant)
-- Excellent appetizers. That romanesco from McClendon that's been all the rage lately showed up in a vegetable platter in a nice pickled preparation alongside a salad made from kale. I've always loved cooked kale but would have considered it cruel and unusual punishment to eat it raw. The preparation at PastaBar changed my mind. Keep in mind, though, that these items are based on what's fresh at the market and may change from night to night.
-- Gracious service. It's a hip Downtown place, but our server did two things right: 1) answered questions from my non-foodie MIL without condescension 2) handled a toddler at the table effectively without over-the-top cuteness.
-- Great modern rock tunes (just like Noca) at a reasonable volume.
-- Reasonable portion sizes. Based on some skeptical remarks I'd heard from others, I expected nouvelle cuisine portions. Not at all. These portions were actually enough for any reasonable person. Four ounces of pasta seems small only in comparison to the monstrous servings at places like the Olive Garden. It's actually twice the recommended portion for most dried pastas: two ounces. The portions are satisfying but not gluttonous. I took some home and brought it to the office for lunch the next day.
-- The entrees generally worked, although sometimes in different ways than expected. My puttanesca was less tomato-y than I expected. That may be because PB is making a more market-to-table puttanesca based on what's fresh rather than a classic sauce from a fixed recipe. The bevette with lemon was very simple -- almost too much so, even for a toddler. We mixed it with some leftover tomato and mozzarella appetizer to give it some variety.
-- The charred shrimp side we ordered was excellent. The charring imparted a nice smoky flavor without overcooking the shrimp.

The cons:

-- Packaged breadsticks rather than bread. The kid loved them, but I wanted something to mop up the extra sauce. I hope this is going to be remedied. PB needs to show the same attention to bread that it does to other ingredients.
-- Had to leave without dessert due to toddler bedtime, but I hear there's very little available at the moment. Of course, the same is true at Sens. If only that gelato place on Roosevelt stayed open past 8 PM.
-- Valet parking at a restaurant three blocks from light rail offends my urbanista sensibilties. On the other hand, if it helps draw in reluctant customers, it makes business sense. As mentioned above, the valet attendant is helpful as a greeter for befuddled customers trying to find the restaurant -- no matter what mode of transport they used to get there.
-- I wonder if the name will lead some people to expect red sauce spaghetti-and-meatballs. Of course, those customers can always walk to Sbarro at ASU Downtown or ride the train up to McDowell and endure the Old Spaghetti Factory.

Overall, I see a lot of promise here with a few areas for improvement. Other impressions?

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