As if the Pasta Sampler plate that I was about half-way through wasn't proof enough that the folks at Pasta Italia knew what they were doing, the hostess seated a large party of Decosimo family members and friends next to me during a recent lunch-time visit.
I have it on good authority that the family knows Italian food almost as well as they know accounting. In any case, I took seeing them there as a good sign, and then patriarch Joe told me that this was his second visit to the 2-week-old restaurant.
I'm looking forward to my return visit.
Where: Pasta Italia, 200 M.L. King Blvd. (lower level of Tallan Building).
Phone: 710-3467 .
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday.-Friday; 5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday
Price range: $9.99 for salad or antipasti to $14.99 Crab Meat Ravioli for lunch; $11 Insalatone Tre Colori to $84 Chateaubriand (or two) for dinner.
I went for lunch and had no real preconceived notion of what to expect. The last time I was in the space in the basement of the Tallan Building, it was a fairly forgettable restaurant in both ambiance and cuisine.
That is not the case today. The menu features antipasti, paninis, meat, fish and, of course, all manner of pasta. Prices are on the high-end side.
A couple of the dishes, such as the Antipasto Italiano (imported Italian cold cuts and grilled, marinated vegetables) or the Rock Salt Fish can be ordered for two. The latter is an old Roman recipe, according to the menu, and features two whole fish baked in two layers of rock salt and served table-side.
There are six antipasti or appetizer items available at lunch.
Smartly, the menu includes a Pasta Sampler featuring a selection of the chef's daily choices. This seemed like a good way to try several things, so that's what I ordered. The waiter quickly brought some bread covered in Parmesan cheese and olive oil. A short time later, a mixed-greens salad with balsamic vinegar dressing was delivered.
My entree arrived in striking fashion. Served on a large plate, the five individual dishes were simply displayed. They offered a contrast in textures and tastes. I was served Pennette with Tomata Sauce, which is a simple pasta in a fresh tomato sauce. You can sometimes judge by how the basics are done, and this was a tasty, well-done dish.
The Cannelloni al Forno was made with spinach, ricotta and a cream bechamel tomato sauce and was also very good. The Pumpkin Ravioli was the surprise item for me. The ravioli was unbelievably light and tender, and the pumpkin stuffing was delicious. The only complaint was I wanted more of it.
I was told the Rosette al Forno was the chef's signature item, and it was beautiful. It comes stuffed with Proscuitto di Parma, fontina and mascarpone cheese with beachamel sauce. It was creamy, melt-in-your-mouth good served in a little pasta cup.
The fifth item was the meat lasagna. You start to get into personal taste preferences when you begin talking lasagna. My wife's is awfully good. So was this.
All of the pastas were perfectly cooked. Too often, pasta dishes can be ruined by noodles that are too crispy, too chewy or too mushy.
George, my server, was pleasant, attentive and helpful. My dishes were delivered by different staff, and each was friendly, though when my entree was brought to the table, it would have been helpful to have been told what each item was. The hostess was more than happy and able to fill me in, and George came by a short while later to answer my remaining questions.
You can enter the restaurant by descending the exterior steps to the basement of the Tallan Building or through the main lobby. The restaurant itself is airy and modern, with the large bar separating the two dining areas and the kitchen.
The space is intimate enough for a romantic dinner but also comfortable enough for a business lunch or a meal with friends. It's a nice addition to the downtown dining menu.
Pasta Italia's Facebook page says that the restaurant was originally in Collierville, Tenn. It doesn't say why chef/owner Michele D'Oto moved it here, but I'm glad he did. Pricing will make this a special-occasion restaurant for many, and so will the food.