Have you ever looked at a piece of pasta, with its expertly cut ridges, scalloped edges, or delicate folds and considered them “fit-in-the-palm-of-your-hand” pieces of artwork? Like tiny sculptures that are handcrafted to be not only visually desirable but also thrill the palate, maybe on display in a culinary museum under glass casing so we can “oooh, and ahhh” at it. (Does a pasta museum already exist? Must research that). I am not talking about the boxed stuff you find at the supermarket, no. I mean, elbows are great and all, but I am talking about the love and admiration for taste and appearance that goes into making pasta, fresh from scratch. If you’re reading this asking yourself, is there actually a noticeable difference between boxed pasta versus the handmade, the only way to answer this question is trying some for yourself. We know just the spot.
The Italian word pastaio translates to “pasta maker” in English. So that alone should be a pretty good giveaway that this new, cozy little spot tucked into Providence’s West End is dedicated to the art and creation of handmade pasta and Italian cuisine. We checked it out, and were already planning our next visit before the meal was even over. (Seriously, we went back later that week). So let’s talk about what we ate.
Because we knew we would be having plenty of doughy carbs, we made sure to incorporate some greens into our meal (mom would be proud). We started off with the local baby greens, which was a lovely bowl of fresh local lettuces, shaved fennel, strawberries, pancetta and a roasted garlic vinaigrette. This was not your average side salad (well, it certainly wasn’t the size of a “side” either). The freshness shone through in the greens as well as the fennel. The sweet pop of strawberry with the savory, salty crunch of pancetta was divine.
For another small plate, we went with the roasted carrots, and although we knew they were going to be fabulous, we weren’t expecting for them to be tied for our favorite. The carrots were roasted in a honey vinaigrette which really amplified the earthy tones of these orange lil babies, while adding a hint of sweet. Dancing around the carrots were dollops of yogurt, slivered almonds, and dill. All of these flavors created a harmonious blend of creamy, toasty, snappy goodness.
Next we ordered up the Gnocchi alla Romana, 3 doughy rounds topped off with a drizzle of herb oil, grated parmesan cheese and my all time favorite, red sauce (gravy to all of you Rhode Island Italians). Soft and delectable, these gnocchis were so heavenly. I am such a sucker for anything with red sauce, but the blanket warming these lil guys made me feel like I’d never have another comparable saucy experience without them. Talk about setting a new high bar in my book. The texture had a light crisp around the edges and a beautifully doughy center. Heart eye emojis all around for these cuties.
For another small dish (BTW ordering a couple of side dishes here is the way to go) we got the purple cauliflower cappellettis. Remember how I talked about the artistic flare that a pasta maker has in the process of creating a dish? Well, that was more than evident here. These cappellettis (this was my first time ever having this type of pasta) were like over sized tortellinis; tenderly folded pillows, softly encasing the tasty filling that our forks broke into. Inside was a smooth, creamy puree of purple cauliflower. On top was a drizzle of citrus butter and roasted leeks. Oh my. With my first bite I took a deep breath in, and let the flavors rest for a moment, because this dish is one to savor. (This is the one I felt was tied for fave with the carrots, although every single dish was 5 star.)
Being in the house of the pasta maker, we of course had to have another pasta dish! So we went with the Pappardelle; long flat pasta (thing of wide linguini) served with chicken, bread crumbs, and snap peas. This dish was beautifully and intentionally simple, which was appreciated because the flavors were pure and didn’t need any overdoing. The pasta was cooked the way the Pasta Gods of Italy intended, al dente. No one like a soggy noodle, and these were cooked by the book.
Of course, our sweet tooths were giving us the old elbow nudge begging for dessert. And lucky for us, Chef Adam’s wife Adriana brought us out a sweet. A house made honey ice cream with strawberries and a graham crumble. Ah! This was like summer, chilled and served in a bowl. So satisfying, thank you Chef and thank you Adriana!
Overall, our experience at Pastaio was sensational. The ambiance is welcoming and homey, and the service was excellent. As you can tell, we loved the food we ate. But I think what I admire most is the simplicity of it all. When using fine, local ingredients, there is no need for overcompensating with excess butters, salts and other unnecessary add ons. Every single dish was intentionally balanced and on point. Kudos, to the staff and chefs at Pastaio, and thank you for having us!
Manya & Laura were dressed by a local Providence favorite boutique, J Marcel, located at 808 Hope Street. Ladies, if you're in need for back to school or fall trends, it's the spot to check out!