Gone is the dark, cavernous bar setting where Charles Bukowski would have felt at home. In its place is a contemporary interior that lunch companion Patrick described as very “New York,” with its exposed brick, airy ambience and sculpted light fixtures. The Mexican-American dive known as Juanita’s is long gone, and in its place is the new Pastavino, billing itself as “simple, organic, Italian.”
Pastavino is helmed by Chef Fabio Flagiello, known for his work at Bacaro a few doors down. The menu includes pizza and entrees like New York steaks, veal legs and baked fish cioppino. Given this restaurant’s name, no one should be surprised by the variety of noodle dishes available.
Pasta choices range from my personal dinner favorite of $7 spaghetti, simply dressed with garlic, olive oil and red pepper, to a $16 Friday special of lobster ravioli. Prices appear to be the same at lunch and dinner, making the later meal especially cost-competitive for the West Pearl neighborhood.
Our server, Christofer, was keenly attentive, keeping our water glasses topped off and letting us know about the progress of our dishes. These included a $9 Carpaccio starter garnished with lemon and nutty olive oil.
The thin-sliced beef appeared to have been lightly cooked as opposed to being presented completely raw, but this didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the earthy savor of rare meat.
Next up was another appetizer, the $7 Fritto Misto, a traditional blend of fried bay scallops and calamari. Adorned with asparagus tips, caper berries, a single fried ricotta-stuffed ravioli, and a light tomato dipping sauce, this dish was anchored by the perfectly fried seafood. The batter was delicate and not at all overbearing, allowing us to fully take in the fish’s fresh sweetness and texture.
Every day, Pastavino offers a trio of pasta specials. Patrick went for one of the Monday features, the $12 canneloni di Magro, veal-stuffed pasta rolls baked with a classic bechamel sauce. Definitely a hearty dish, its fullbore meaty flavor and heavy cream component make it a better midwinter choice than a warm-weather one.
Where Patrick’s selection was a rusticated blunt instrument, my entree displayed more subtle flavorings. Our server recommended the $12 spaghetti vongole, a white sauce pasta showcasing Manilla clams. I took him up on the offer, understanding this would either give the kitchen a chance to shine or to fall flat on its face. To successfully pull this dish off, the seafood must be impeccably fresh.
Fortunately it was, and the pasta’s texture was properly al dente, and the kitchen struck the correct balance of garlic, herbs, lemon and white wine.
We finished with the $6 Torta Nonna, a vanilla and lemon custard-filled tart.
Our impression was that this creamy dessert didn’t quite reach the loftier heights of the entrees. Without the toppings of powdered sugar and plenty of pine nuts, this sweet would have been blah, but these additions gave it a pronounced Old World accent.
I’ll admit to being sorry to see Juanita’s shutter its doors, and I’ll always fondly remember its chicken mole. But I also have to confess to being pleasantly surprised by the quality of the service and food at Pastavino, and it certainly is a worthwhile stop for the Italian cuisine aficionado.