Pastaria

by Stephanie on October 19, 2012

in Dinner, Italian

Another Friday, another review. Who’s up for some Italian? If there’s one style of food I definitely don’t eat enough, it’s Italian. Pasta, bread, and cheese? It’s a carb-lover’s dream!

So it’s safe to say that I was really looking forward to trying out the newest Italian restaurant in town.

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Pastaria! This restaurant is the newest brainchild of well-known chef and restaurateur, Gerard Craft. He’s the guy behind Brasserie, Taste, and Niche. I most recently helped judge the Atomicdust BBQ competition with him a few weeks ago! He’s a nice guy, and I’m a huge fan of Brasserie and Taste, so I was super pumped to check out Pastaria.

Two of my buddies joined me for this girls night dinner:

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Hi Chung and Dae! I love these girls. Smile

Anyway, let’s get down to business. We arrived on a busy Friday night; apparently, we weren’t the only ones excited to chow down on pasta!

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I absolutely love what they did with the space. It was bright and open. It felt very chic. And there were tons of neat things to look at!

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I’m a sucker for good scenery.

But enough about that; let’s talk about the food! Pastaria has a pretty interesting menu; there were lots of yummy sounding items to choose from. Everything from pistachio ravioli to oven-roasted lasagna was on the menu. There were lots of salads to choose from, and there was even pizza!

The one item that caught my eye, however, was the toasted spaghetti. The menu described it as containing “clams, butter, garlic, white wine, and bread crumbs.” Sold!

But first? Bread. We were seated for a while before our waitress remembered to bring us bread, but it was a busy night, and I was willing to overlook that.

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It was well worth the wait! It was soft, warm, and delicious, especially dipped in savory olive oil.

Our entrees came out really quickly; Not even ten minutes after we ordered, this was placed in front of me:

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Yum. It certainly looked tasty! And the portion size was much larger than what I was expecting. I had high hopes for this baby.

And…how can I say this tactfully? I didn’t like this dish. At all.

It’s hard when you really want to like something, and you just don’t. Trust me – I know Gerard Craft’s reputation. Not just anyone can run multiple (very successful) restaurants. Not just anyone gets nominated for multiple James Beard awards. The guy has talent. And this dish, in my opinion, was not reflective of that talent whatsoever.

Flavor-wise, it was bad. I adore clams. I adore butter. Garlic. White wine. Bring it on, baby. The more the merrier. But none of those flavors were present in this dish. What did I taste? Well, if you ever wanted to know what an over salted, over peppered, rushed-out-because-it’s-Friday-night-and-5-BILLION-people-are-here-waiting-for-their-food tastes like, it’s this.

Toasted spaghetti? If toasted spaghetti is supposed to taste hard and chewy, then this was spot on. SPOT ON.

In short? This was a huge no. No. No no no no no. Oh god, no.

Ahem.

Now that that’s out of my system, let’s talk dessert, shall we? Chung went with the panna cotta.

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I had a bite of this, and it was creamy, sweet, and delicious. Two thumbs up! She enjoyed it as well.

I ordered the tiramisu. Fun fact: tiramisu used to be my favorite dessert before bread pudding took over my life. Winking smile

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Let me pause for a minute. Let me check myself. When your name is Gerard Craft and you have the reputation you do, you’re going to be held to a higher standard. When you’re a high-profile, award-winning chef, you’re going to be judged more critically. Is it fair? That’s not for me to answer. But that’s the truth. It is what it is.

And that tiramisu right there? If this was plopped in front of me at, say, the Olive Garden or Maggiano’s, I wouldn’t bat an eye. Because (and this is my food snob coming out, so I apologize in advance) I hold those restaurants to a lower standard.

But knowing that this came from the kitchen of Pastaria, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. Presentation-wise, this is sad. Aside from it looking pathetic, I wasn’t impressed with the ladyfinger to mascarpone cheese ratio. I adore mascarpone cheese, but when it is 95% of the dish, that’s not right.

This is what tiramisu should look like:

Tiramisu

(source)

Huge difference there.

Anyway, I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: I really don’t like writing negative reviews. Two years ago, I wrote a negative review of the now-nonexistent Newstead Tower Public House. I had a bad experience there. I was honest about my experience, and I got ripped to shreds because of it. I was told that I was destroying someone’s livelihood. I was told that I was “unprofessional,” and that I “made all food bloggers look bad” because of that review.

Here’s the thing: I don’t regret a single word I wrote in that review. And that review stands, in its entirety, on my blog today.

At the end of the day, I’m not a professional food critic. This isn’t my job. I’m just a girl who loves to eat. I didn’t go to culinary school, and my palate isn’t as refined as someone who does this professionally.  I’m not getting paid to write these reviews. 99% of the meals I write about on this blog? I pay for those out of my own pocket. I don’t have close personal relationships with any chefs or restaurant owners, nor do I wish to have one. Because, let’s face it: if I was friends with Gerard Craft, this review would be impossible (or a heck of a lot harder) to write.

But I think that’s the beauty of what this blog is all about. I’m your average American consumer. I’m a customer of Pastaria. Of Brasserie. Of Farmhaus. Of Milagro. And heck, I enjoy some KFC from time to time as well. Winking smile

I know that I’ll get reamed for this review, whether it be publicly or in private. I know I’ll get written off by restaurant owners and the so-called “professional” food bloggers of St. Louis. I’ll get written off as just another person who likes to run her mouth and destroy livelihoods and (gasp!) write Yelp reviews of restaurants.

I know that and I don’t care.

I write this blog for people like my mom. For my friends. For picky people and adventurous eaters alike. I write this blog for people who don’t want to spend $16+ on a mediocre pasta dish. For people who don’t want to spend their hard-earned money on food that sucks. And in my humble opinion, the food I had at Pastaria tonight was not good. It was not worth waiting 45 minutes to be seated. It was not worth the money I paid.

Of course, this is just one person’s opinion. I urge you to check out Pastaria for yourself. Give it a shot – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

And, as always, I welcome all feedback. Positive and negative. It makes me a stronger writer. It makes me a better blogger. Comment away. Email away. Tweet me! Facebook me!

I will always be honest in my reviews. Always. Even when it’s not a popular opinion. I hope that comes through in all of my writing.

I’ll see y’all next week. Smile

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  • http://www.facebook.com/mamarcus17 Michelle Marcus

    As a fellow blogger, I am sorry that you felt like you had to defend yourself in advance. I agree with you completely…we’re just doing this for fun, not trying to ruin anyone’s career. So people need to chill out!

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      I agree completely, Michelle! I hate that I had to defend myself in advance as well. Thanks for the support :)

  • Hilary

    Did you consider sending the pasta dish back? Just curious!

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      I thought about it, Hilary, but ultimately I didn’t. Looking back, I wish I would have.

      • http://rhubarbandhoney.com/ Kimberly

        One more note to my lengthy comment above. In the future, please get up the gumption and send dishes you are this unsatisfied with back. Restaurant owners need to know immediately when things aren’t right (especially when a restaurant is this new). And I’d hedge a bet that 99% of the time, they will work to make it right then and there.

        • OffTheEatenPathSTL

          Thanks, Kimberly!

  • http://twitter.com/daniellesmyname Danielle Hohmeier

    I give you props for writing negative reviews! It takes REAL guts to be honest.

    That being said – get yo’self back to Pastaria and have the pizza (believe it came in 2nd to Lou Malnati’s in a ‘life-changing’ pizza contest!) and the gelato. Amazeballs.

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      Thanks, Danielle! This wasn’t an easy post to write.

      I will have to check out the pizza there, especially since it ranked so highly! I love a good pizza!

  • Melissa

    I commend you. I just starting reading your blog (seriously, like YESTERDAY) and you know what??? Not every experience is going to be candy roses and puppies. Having to defend yourself is assinine. For your haters, “professional” food bloggers and etc… get a life. We are ALL entitled to our opinion, and I for one appreciate a review from a REAL point of view. You don’t do this for a living, you do it for fun. You are NOT trying to ruin someone’s business, you are just keepin’ it real for us folks out here who want to know what the REAL deal is with a place. Just because you didn’t like it doesn’t mean we will hate it too, but it may have us go in with a bit of caution. I WANT to know that “hey, this place is pricey, but totally worth it” or “this was a horrible experience and not worth the money”. Will your review on this place make me not go there? No. For one, I don’t do clams, so I’ll be checking something else out. But, I DO now know that I should be prepared for a wait for a seat.

    Also, holding an established chef with multiple successful restaurants accountable for the food they serve is EXACTLY what you should do. If you are paying a primo price, I expect my food to smack me in the face, make me beg for more, and not call me in the morning. Your dessert did not do that. It wasn’t visually appealing. It looked like “ugh… here.” I don’t want no pity dessert!

    So, THANK YOU for keepin’ it real, and introducing me to new places to stuff my face.

    *steps off soapbox* :)

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, Melissa! This is exactly the reason why I blog. Reading this comment made my day. I’m glad you found my blog, and I hope you find my other reviews helpful as well. :)

  • tony J

    stop explaining yourself so much and dont be so apologetic and timid. The last few paragraphs were unnecessary.

    • Stephanie

      Thanks for the feedback, Tony! I do agree that I may have been overly apologetic. I’ll keep that in mind for my next review! :)

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      Thanks for the feedback, Tony!

  • Victor Vaughn

    defending yourself really cheapens what you’re trying to do here. Just do the reviews, and stop apologizing. Don’t think so much, just keep knocking out reviews. Fake it till you make it, as they say,

    • Stephanie

      Thanks, Victor. I think I was so sensitive to some of the scathing remarks I received last time I wrote a really negative review that I thought I needed to explain myself and apologize in advance. But you’re right — this is my opinion, and when it comes down to it, I don’t owe anyone an apology for saying what’s on my mind. Thanks for the feedback, and thanks for visiting the blog! :)

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      Thanks for the input, Victor!

  • http://twitter.com/stlbites stlbites

    The reason people took–and still take–issue with the Newstead thing isn’t so much about the opinion as the ill-timed nature of it. It’d be like going to the hospital when someone was on their deathbed, and family was gathered around, and saying, “that guy’s a real POS.”

    They were merely trying to use up food and pack the place the last couple days they were open with the people who had considered it a special place in their dining repertoire.

    It was a time for us to come together and say goodbye, and for them to at least make a little dent in the large financial loss they were taking by closing.

    This review, on the other hand, is a restaurant that is booming. It was a highly anticipated and much lauded opening, and completely fair game.
    And I would agree that realistically, you could say virtually anything you wanted about Pastaria and it will likely succeed regardless.

    The number one reason for this is that most chefs like the idea of telling you to send food back, but don’t take it well in practice. If ever I was going to send something back, however, it would be in a Gerard Craft owned restaurant. Few restaurateurs want for everyone to be happy all of the time in the way he does–and by few, I mean few anywhere in the country, not just St. Louis. He epitomizes class, and he holds all of his workers to incredibly high standards.

    Here’s to hoping your next meal goes better if you return, and I would second the gelato. The espresso gelato was especially silken. It’s definitely the dessert that they appeared to be most proud of on my one visit to date.

    • Stephanie

      Thanks for the alternate view on the Newstead issue.

      I will keep the ‘sending food back’ issue in mind during future visits. I do plan on visiting Pastaria again, although I’m honestly in no rush to return. I will definitely try the gelato (and the pizza!) if I do return, however.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I appreciate all of the feedback; I do believe it makes me a stronger, more well-rounded (and informed) blogger.

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      Thanks for the interesting point of view, stlbites! I will be giving Pastaria another shot in the future, and I do plan on trying the gelato. :)

  • http://memyclothesandicecream.blogspot.com/ Margy

    I’ve eaten at the restaurants you review and they’re usually spot on. I hope this one isn’t. I’ve heard other good reviews of Pastaria from friends. I hope it was just an off busy night where they were still trying to work out the kinks!

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      I hope they were just working out the kinks as well! I do plan on giving Pastaria another try in the future, and I will definitely update my review when I do so! Thanks for reading and commenting :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/undergroundfortea Undergroundfor Tea

    I applaud your honest review. To the people who disparage you for defending yourself for writing a negative review, or in the case of Newstead, “putting another nail in the coffin,” listen : restaurants are in the business of making delicious food, food that people pay more money for, most of the time, than they could make at home. It’s first and foremost about the food. If the food isn’t up to snuff, cooks, owners, not only should you want to know about it, you should actively seek out negative reviews and change things for the better. I am an excellent cook. My husband manages a successful cafe. I have a rule: if I can make this better at home, or if you can make this as good as I can, but the atmosphere or service sucks, I am not coming back. Your food is your livelihood. If you were a barista, and you couldn’t steam milk, you’d fail as a barista. You need to deliver every time. That’s your business. If you fu** up, then you need to be humble enough to make it perfect. I don’t settle for excuses- I don’t settle for sub-par, because “it’s busy.” I know what bust is, I’ve worked the industry. I didn’t work for hours to pay for a sub-par meal. Have respect for your crft and the customers will respect you.

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment! I agree with everything you said, 100%. I have little patience for excuses, no matter how heart-wrenching they may be. I understand that a restaurant going out of business is a sad thing, but when they are open to the public, they are fair game for review, in my opinion.

  • http://badkittyknits.blogspot.com KittyKnits

    Good for you for staying true to your opinions. Also, for writing your opinions about the food, not about any person at Pastaria.
    Being a reviewer of anything is hard; being an honest and constructive critic damn near impossible. Good on you, girl!

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      Thank you so much for the support!

  • http://rhubarbandhoney.com/ Kimberly

    I understand that you’re not a professional food critic, but when someone has written a “restaurant review” blog for two years, you automatically position yourself as an expert in that arena (whether you want to be viewed that way or not) … and with that comes some responsibility. I hope you’ll take the below as constructive criticism because that’s what it is… nothing more, nothing less.

    1. I realize that you can’t always go back to a restaurant two or three times before writing a review, but at least wait until a new restaurant is open for at least two months before trying it out. Give them time to work out the kinks; regardless of the type of restaurant, there will always be kinks in the first few months.

    2. While I don’t expect you to know everything about the restaurant industry, try to learn a bit more about how it all works. I’m not trying to dredge up the Newstead thing maliciously, but it’s a perfect situation to reference here. As stlbites points out in his comment here, there are many reasons a restaurant will stay open for a few more weeks after they’ve announced they’re closing … and often it’s financial. I see no fault in trying to make the last bit of money you can off your long-time patrons (and I’m certain they are happy to pay for one last meal). Writing about your experience there was just unfair. Another case in point: your review of Araka. Your visit took place during Clayton Restaurant Week, which means your three-course meal was priced at $25. The purpose of any “restaurant week” is to expose new customers to places at a reasonable price, which automatically means smaller portions of the restaurant’s popular items. Instead of noting this in your review, you negatively critiqued the small salad you received and then compared it to an entree-sized salad from another restaurant. If all restaurants gave full-sized portions during “restaurant week,” they’d go broke. Again, it was a bit unfair not to note this.

    3. While I don’t expect you to know everything about every cuisine under the sun, I would urge you to learn a bit more before you write about them. In more than one of your reviews, you state that you aren’t familiar with an ingredient or dish and then criticize it … but often the dish sounds as if it was prepared correctly … you just don’t know that. Case in point: your review of the now defunct Land of Smile and their “weird noodles.” Rice noodles are indeed soft and a bit gummy when prepared, but this is just how they are. Had you done a quick Google search, you’d realize this. And you could still say you didn’t like them … but at least your readers would know that they had been prepared correctly. (As an aside … do you cook a lot? Read food magazines? Read cookbooks? If not, I would suggest starting to do so … it will take your knowledge of food to a whole new level, and in turn, will make your reviewing skills that much better.)

    4. Tell the entire story. I understand that during your dinner at Araka, the waiter attempted to get you a new drink since you were unhappy with the one you received, but you declined. Say that in your review! I also understand from your Twitter feed that Gerard Craft has contacted you since your review of Pastaria and has offered to refund your entire meal AND he’s also invited you back for another meal on the house, which you’ve accepted. In order for your readers have a true picture of your experience at this restaurant, you need to include this detail as well. There is nothing wrong with going back and updating a review. I hope you do that for Pastaria.

    Again, I hope you’ll take this all as constructive criticism as that’s how it’s intended. There is plenty of room in St. Louis for all kinds of food blogs, including yours.

    ~Kimberly

    Oh, one more thing. I just have to comment on your seemingly love/hate relationship with frozen French fries. In your review of Cafe Eau, you said, “Call me a French fry snob, but if I’m eating out and I order French fries, I expect them to be house-made.” But, in a zillion other reviews (including Wendy’s!), you happily talk about French fries that were obviously frozen.

    Do you know how hard it is to make French fries in house? It’s extremely difficult and time-consuming so most restaurants won’t even attempt it … and I applaud them for knowing where their strengths and weaknesses are.

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Kimberly! I will try to address your issues, point by point:

      1. I understand that every new restaurant will have kinks in its first few months. I try to be understanding of that. It is for that reason that I make an effort NOT to visit a restaurant during its opening week, or even the first few weeks (unless I’m invited by the restaurant itself). Eight weeks seems like an awfully long time, however. But I will most certainly keep that in mind the next time I think about visiting a new establishment.

      2. We’ll have to agree to disagree on the Newstead issue. This is going to sound callous, but I’m going to say it anyway: I don’t really give two shakes WHY Newstead decided to stay open for a few more weeks. If they wanted to give their loyal patrons one last shot to try their food, don’t announce it all over Facebook, Twitter, the Post Dispatch, Feast, etc. Newstead had the choice to take a financial loss by closing early, or try to make back a few pennies by serving up sub-par food during their final weeks. They made their decision, and it just so happened to be a poor choice.

      As far as the Araka review goes, I did mention that it was restaurant week in the review. And if my memory serves me correctly, other than a few minor gripes, I was satisfied with my meal at Araka. I wasn’t over the moon thrilled with my meal, but I didn’t trash the place, either.

      3. Fair enough. I should have done more research on rice noodles. Point taken. I do cook a fair amount, and while reading cookbooks in my spare time isn’t something I do (or plan on doing, to be honest), I do know a fair amount about food. But there is always more that I can learn. Thanks for pointing that out.

      4. I do plan on visiting Pastaria again. I don’t plan on revising my original review of Pastaria; I do, however, plan on visiting again and creating a new blog post all about it.

      Again, thanks for taking the time to comment with constructive criticism. I really do take everyone’s thoughts into account, and I feel like this will make me a better and stronger blogger in the end.

  • Matt

    What you got was cacio e pepe, not a dish with clams and white wine. I know this because I went to Pastaria and ordered cacio e pepe and your picture is exactly what came out. If it tasted over-peppered, it’s kind of supposed to be. Cacio e pepe literally means “cheese and pepper.” Maybe they brought out the wrong dish, but I know that their cacio e pepe is made with “toasted spaghetti,” as you ordered, because the waiter told me that’s what I was getting when I ordered it (some of the flour is toasted, which gives the pasta a darker color). Anyway, my party adored the dish, but that’s not the point. I’m just kind of surprised you still think what they put in front of you was a clam and white wine dish that just didn’t taste like clams and wine.

    • Stephanie

      Thanks for the input, Matt.

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      Thanks for the input, Matt! I now know that toasted spaghetti (at least from Pastaria) just may not be my cup of tea.

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  • Anne

    A few thouightful comments come to mind when reading your post about Pastaria and a few others. You state that you “don’t care” what other folks who obvioiusly DO CARE about good food and service think about your blog and the opinions therein. My question is: Why are you doing this? What real service are you providing other than stating what seem to be uneducated, ill-informed and often overly dramatic and “cutesy” opinions about the St. Louis dining scene? Are you simply another young woman who likes to frequent restaurants with friends and then capitalize on dissapointments (minor or otherwise) in an irresponsible and uninformed way. Please do your homework before visiting a dining establishment. Get to know those whose hard and well-intentioned work you will be critiquing. Understand what the beautiful and unpretentious food of Italy is all about. Before posting a photo of Tiramisu and stating that “This is what Tiramisu SHOULD look like.”, please do some fact checking as to the true integrity and appearance of the dish as it is served in Italy. You will see how pale and transparent your sense of authority reads.

    Yes, Stephanie, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but please remember that if they are strewn about willy-nilly and without care, your sense of credibility will soon be dismissed.

    • OffTheEatenPathSTL

      Hi Anne! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my blog. I’m sorry you feel as though my opinions are “strewn about willy-nilly.” Like I said in my review, I really don’t like writing negative reviews of restaurants, but sometimes it must be done.

      Please, if you haven’t done so already, take the time to read my “about me” page if you’re interested in why I started this blog (and why I continue to blog). As I’ve stated many times, I’m not a professional food critic; I simply love to eat, write, and take photos! The “service” I provide, if you choose to call it that, is to simply expose others to the great restaurants this city has. Sometimes I fall in love with the food; sometimes I don’t. But my opinion of my experiences will always be truthful, even when my opinion is unpopular! That’s the way I am, and most of my readers respect that about me.

      As far as getting to know the people behind the food, I stated in this review (and I strongly believe) that that is unnecessary, and in some cases, may hinder the entire experience. If I was great friends with Gerard Craft, that would make a negative review that much harder to write. This blog is about the food and my restaurant experience; I’m sure there are other great STL food blogs that profile chefs, waiters, etc. I urge you to seek those out if that’s what you’re after.

      Again, I’m not a professional, but I do stand behind the knowledge of food that I do have. I aim to handle all of my reviews in a professional, responsible, educated way, and I’m sorry you disagree with that.

      I find it interesting that while this isn’t the first negative review I’ve written, it’s the one that received a lot of push back (in the form of your comment and a few others) from the St. Louis food community.

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