A sign outside Boulder’s Il Pastaio sums up the experience at this eatery, as it features the famed Leaning Tower of Pisa juxtaposed against the mountainous backdrop of the Flatirons. Assuming this graphic isn’t intended to serve as a vivid reminder of the power of plate tectonics, it appears to confirm this eatery’s status as an outpost of Italy in the Rockies.
Il Pastaio’s a petite spot situated a stone’s throw from the 30th Street King Soopers. While it can be crowded during peak meal times, it retains a cozy, casual, café-like atmosphere. Lunch-time ordering takes place at the counter, where already-prepared courses sit in a steam table, ready to be served on demand. Behind the counter, industrial pasta-making machinery underscores this establishment’s focus on fresh noodles, which are also available to go, so you can cook them at home.
Unsurprisingly, the dinner menu relies heavily on fresh pasta, ranging from ribbons of fettuccine to stuffed ravioli, topped with sauces spanning from creamy Alfredo to herbaceous pesto. Also available are entrees like chicken or eggplant parmagiana and pork loin. Lunch, which friend Florence and I enjoyed, is a screaming deal at $8.31 for a roll, salad, main course and side dish.
The included bread is fine, although it didn’t possess the fermented yeastiness of a sourdough loaf that would accompany a San Francisco Italian dinner. An optional cup of $2.95 minestrone is light but flavorful, a brothy concoction laden with minced vegetables like sweet carrots. The salad of beans, greens and ripe tomato slices included in the lunch deal is simple yet satisfying, topped off by subtle vinaigrette. A side of Brussels sprouts were on the soft side, but not unappealingly so, and they possessed a slightly nutty savor. Similarly, Florence’s zucchini were malleable but with a bright flavor.
While noodles per se weren’t part of the lunch special, the available layered and stuffed pasta variants provided sufficient evidence of Il Pastaio’s pasta skills. A triumvirate of lasagna came in beef, vegetable and turkey iterations. I went for the turkey version, which lost nothing on flavor to its bovine counterpart. Choosing between marinara and a spicy sauce, I didn’t regret the hotter option, which still retained smooth tomato flavor. Florence’s selection of ricotta- and beet-stuffed ravioli in a balanced tomato cream sauce was undoubtedly rich, but the tomato’s acidity and mellowness of the beets kept the heaviness in check.
We closed out the meal with the archetypical $2.50 mini cannoli, a sweet more familiar to East Coast transplant Florence than it was to myself. The Italian restaurants of my Bay-area youth tended more towards spumoni ice cream as a dessert, leaving me to rely on Florence’s stamp of approval. Certainly, this version had all the familiar qualities of this confection, which included a hard shell pastry with the aroma of powdered sugar and a tangy soft white cheese filling. This smaller portion was perfectly sized, given the heartiness of the rest of the meal.
Il Pastaio comfortably succeeds regarding price, quality and quantity. The reasonable lunch deal would cost more at an upscale Pearl Street address, and it concedes nothing on flavor, particularly with the sauce. Additionally, the availability of sauces and noodles to go is a blessing for the cook desiring Italian at home.
Clay’s Obscurity Corner
Take the cannoli
Cannoli, which is the plural form for the popular tube-shaped dessert, are a staple of Italian restaurants, and are Sicilian in origin. Most American versions come stuffed with sweetened ricotta cheese, although mascarpone, also found in tiramisu, can also fill the typically fried pastry shell. Fancier versions might include maraschino cherries or nuts as a garnish on the open ends of this sweet, and others may swap out the cheese filling with custard. Film and dessert fans can never forget the infamous line from The Godfather, in which a Corleone soldier advises another, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
3075 Arapahoe Ave. Suite B, Boulder 303-447-9572