PastaBar: Filling Casual Italian Niche in Phoenix [CLOSED]

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Restaurant Sign Phoenix

Mario Batali protégée Wade Moises makes satisfying pasta dishes in Phoenix.

In Manhattan, respectable Italian restaurants are about as common as pigeons. In Phoenix, they’ve got a handle on pizza, but stray from the wood-fired oven and it’s more of a crapshoot. However, some chefs have managed to bridge the gap, including Wade Moises, who worked for Mario Batali at Babbo and Lupa before teaming with Sassi lieutenant Nick Gentry on PastaBar in early 2009. In just over a year, they’ve managed to carve out a casual Italian niche that would no doubt be welcome in L.A.

The pasta-driven restaurant is located in an increasingly relevant stretch of downtown, just a block from Matt’s Big Breakfast, which rates with the nation’s best breakfast parlors. PastaBar is set back from 1st Street, in a former collection agency. We arrived mid afternoon, during a lull in service. Only one other table was full in the artsy, mirror- and art-lined space.

Local Farm Vegetables normally cost $10, but run only $5 during weekday happy hour that lasts from 4-6 PM. Vegetables and preparations change seasonally.

Vegetables Phoenix

During our visit, we encountered crunchy sugar snap peas with lemon vinaigrette, hearty butternut squash cubes with walnuts and balsamic, and mache topped with grapefruit, blood orange and sharp Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings.

PastaBar’s focused menu features a handful of antipasti and nine different pasta dishes, which are all readily identifiable as classic pastas from Italy, all pairable with sides like Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder, Beef Meatballs and Desert Sweet Shrimp. Only one dish costs more than $15, Fettuccini Tagliatta with rib-eye.

Pasta Phoenix

Our waitress tried to dissuade us from ordering Fettuccini e Finocchio ($14), saying that only true fennel-heads would enjoy the dish. Still, the combination of ingredients sounded so unique that we stuck with our decision, and it was my favorite plate.

Moises bombarded al dente noodles with crunchy, licorice-tinged fennel pesto, raisins, pine nuts, hot peppers, lemon, and nearly imperceptible anchovies. The topper: crunchy bread crumbs and a dill nest. This was very good pasta with layers of flavor.

Pasta Phoenix

Orecchiette con Salsiccia ($15) seemed like an automatic win, and it was a solid preparation, but not as interesting as Finocchio. Pasta ears could have been firmer, and there was too much Pecorino, but it was hard to argue with crumbled house-made sausage or bitter escarole slicked with pork jus.

Moises and Gentry developed a focused menu with reasonable prices. If PastaBar opened in my neighborhood, I would be a regular diner.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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