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Pastahounds! Premium Pastas in the Bay Area

morphone May 24, 2008 11:30 AM

Having recently realized that I've never had what is considered premium italian pasta, I'm now on a search. I'm looking for a location in the East Bay (though I suppose I would travel as far as SF if a shop has a great selection) for an amazing, premium imported pasta to bring home.

I'm particularly looking for Cipriani, but other brand names I've heard are Rustichella, Dallari, Fini, Cav, Giuseppe Cocco, Michele Portoghese, Benedetto Calvieri. Any other brand recommendations and where to get them would be appreciated as well!

And finally, any tips on cooking the perfect pasta? I can imagine it's not the same process as the $2/lb stuff from the grocery store.

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  1. m
    mochimunchie RE: morphone May 24, 2008 12:04 PM

    The Pasta Shop in Market Hall in Rockridge or on 4th Street in Berkeley. I know they have Rustichella - some in bulk too.

    1. w
      wally RE: morphone May 24, 2008 12:05 PM

      Rustichella d'Abruzzo is pretty common around here. The Pasta Shop on 4th street has a fairly large selection

      1. Robert Lauriston RE: morphone May 24, 2008 03:33 PM

        I buy Rustichella at the Pasta Shop. My favorites are the penne rigati and orecchietti. They cook just like any dry pasta.

        Trader Joe's has some pretty similar stuff these days. Only one or two shapes.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston
          morphone RE: Robert Lauriston May 25, 2008 11:55 AM

          Trader Joe's carries premium pasta? Which brand? I'm very curious.

          1. re: morphone
            Robert Lauriston RE: morphone May 25, 2008 02:59 PM

            House label. Paper bag with metal rivets, but with a cellophane bag inside.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              jmarek RE: Robert Lauriston May 27, 2008 12:53 PM

              This is the yellow bag, right? They had penne and trotelle. It was excellent but I think it's gone now (as of a few months ago). I contacted TJ's and they said it was gone forever. Let me know if I'm misinformed and need to go to another TJ store.

              They do have extra long spaghetti in the yellow package now. It's quite good.

              1. re: jmarek
                Robert Lauriston RE: jmarek May 28, 2008 10:25 AM

                I haven't bought any in a while so you may be right.

        2. s
          Spatlese RE: morphone May 24, 2008 08:54 PM

          Williams-Sonoma outposts usually stock a number of different imported dry pastas - Cipriani and one or two others at the Emeryville branch I last visited.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Spatlese
            morphone RE: Spatlese May 25, 2008 11:57 AM

            Thanks! For some reason I never really equates WS with actually selling food, but it makes sense. It appears that they may be the only place in the area that imports Cipriani, which I'm really interested in pitting against Spinosi in a death match.

            1. re: Spatlese
              morphone RE: Spatlese May 27, 2008 09:41 PM

              I stopped by here today and they didn't have Cipriani. The guy had no idea what I was talking about, but also admitted to being fairly new. When did you see it?

              Have you seen it anywhere else? This is the main brand I want to try, but can't find it anywhere!

              1. re: morphone
                Spatlese RE: morphone May 28, 2008 07:29 AM

                Odd - I was quite sure I'd seen it there fairly recently (within the past few weeks).

                The aforementioned Pasta Shop may be another option; for some reason, Whole Foods comes to mind as well.

                1. re: Spatlese
                  morphone RE: Spatlese Jun 2, 2008 09:35 AM

                  I'll check whole foods, but at this point I've checked all over the east bay, including the pasta shop, sur la table, williams sonoma, market hall, and a few others. I'll keep searching, but if you see it again, let me know!

                  you can actually buy it on amazon.com, but shipping is as much as the product.

                  1. re: Spatlese
                    morphone RE: Spatlese Jun 5, 2008 09:33 AM

                    They did have it at the Berkeley Whole Foods! Thanks!

              2. moto RE: morphone May 24, 2008 11:29 PM

                morphone, the better dry pasta I've encountered have some qualities in common on visual examination. They're rough textured compared to the commercial mass produced stuff, which comes I think from bronze rather than stainless steel dies being used. They also are not homogenous/monotone in color, probably because of that texture and because they are dried more slowly. You might look at the stuff AG Ferrari has, if a branch is convenient to you--I've had good results with it.

                6 Replies
                1. re: moto
                  morphone RE: moto May 25, 2008 11:58 AM

                  Thank you. Do you know what they generally consist of? I've heard of some imported pastas containing flax, which will increase their course texture a bit. I've heard the same of whole wheat pastas.

                  1. re: morphone
                    Robert Lauriston RE: morphone May 25, 2008 03:00 PM

                    There are some specialty pastas made from different grains or a mix of grains, but the vast majority are 100% semolina (hard durum wheat).

                    1. re: morphone
                      moto RE: morphone May 27, 2008 01:04 PM

                      morphone, as RL noted most of the artisan pastas you'll run across are durum semolina, but in my (calif) travels I found one made from stone ground, whole emmer wheat (farro).

                      1. re: moto
                        wally RE: moto May 27, 2008 01:09 PM

                        Rustichella also has farro and whole wheat pasta but not quite the variety as in durum semolina. I have purchase spaghetti and penne rigate in farro.

                        1. re: moto
                          VanessaItalyinSF RE: moto May 27, 2008 03:50 PM

                          Farro and whole wheat pasta do not cook in the same way as the 100% semolina flour, which is necessary for the prized "al dente" cooking.

                          In Italy, we really put salt in our pasta water- a small fistful of coarse sea salt for a large pot of pasta (1 or 2 gallons of water). This usually scares my dinner guests, so I have to add it when nobody looks at me. The salt stays in the water and just a small portion does on to flavor the pasta itself- and hypertension statistics don't show Italians having any problems!

                          Drain the pasta when it is cooked throughly, but just about- it should still be very firm. For example, when biting into a spaghetti you should not see the "raw" core, but it should be visible where it was. By the time you drain the pasta and season it, you will have the perfect al dente cooking on your plate. The semolina flour has specific characteristics to maintain the cooking- once it's drained, it doesn't have overcook too fast and spoil your dish.

                          Buon Appetito!

                          1. re: VanessaItalyinSF
                            morphone RE: VanessaItalyinSF May 27, 2008 09:39 PM

                            Thanks! I'm all about adding a ton of salt, and then retaining a bit of starchy water for the sauce. That velvet smooth texture is the whole point, IMHO.

                    2. g
                      glutton RE: morphone May 27, 2008 05:01 PM

                      Phoenix Pastificio in Berkeley makes some excellent fresh pasta. I'm partial to their crab ravioli and pumpkin ravioli. They sell from their kitchen and at the Berkeley Farmers Markets. I believe they hit more markets than just that one, but I don't know which ones. Also, their fresh olive bread is fantastic.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: glutton
                        Robert Lauriston RE: glutton May 28, 2008 10:27 AM

                        They're also at the Grand Lake market.

                        Phoenix Pastificio
                        1250 Addison St, Berkeley, CA 94702

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                          glutton RE: Robert Lauriston May 28, 2008 01:20 PM

                          I also think they sell some of the pasta at the Berkeley Bowl.

                          1. re: glutton
                            Ruth Lafler RE: glutton Jun 5, 2008 01:07 PM

                            They do, although I can't remember seeing their filled pastas there, just the flat pastas in various flavors (the Meyer lemon is delicious). If you can get it, and not look at the price, their ravioli with fresh pea filling is fabulous.

                      2. s
                        SteveG RE: morphone May 28, 2008 12:33 PM

                        Rainbow Grocery in SF carries quite a few imported high-end Italian dried pastas, including Rustichella, a lookalike brand with nearly identical packaging, and a few others.

                        A weird brand I'd never seen before ended up in the bargain bin at Rainbow, and I picked up a few. One I thought was squid ink turned out to be colored and flavored with radichio, the other was polenta pasta. Interesting options, not necessarily worth searching out but indicative to me that the pasta buyer at Rainbow experiments with high end imports.

                        1. w
                          wally RE: morphone May 28, 2008 01:07 PM

                          The Cipriani you find online is egg pasta. Is this what you are seeking?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: wally
                            morphone RE: wally Jun 2, 2008 09:36 AM

                            Either egg or non-egg. I want to give it a try and see how it compares to the other premium pastas I've got.

                            1. re: morphone
                              moto RE: morphone Jun 5, 2008 12:50 PM

                              morphone, if you are around 'old oakland' (just west of chinatown, other side of broadway), Ratto's grocery has a pretty good selection of pastas and might have something of interest. It's conveniently 'round the corner from the Fri. farmer's market, which is inner city urban style and has its charms.

                              1. re: moto
                                Robert Lauriston RE: moto Jun 5, 2008 12:56 PM

                                I used to go to Ratto's for some hard-to-find items, but they dropped them all when they subdivided the space and rented the larger section out as a restaurant (currently Levende East). It's worth a look if you're in the area but it's primarily a sandwich shop, with a very limited selection of deli items.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                  rworange RE: Robert Lauriston Jun 7, 2008 08:30 PM

                                  It may not be what it was, but they still carry more than a dozen different brands of pasta from Italy. None of them the ones mentioned by the OP.

                                  I was there recently. They did have some lovely bulk beans like Christmas lima beans and scarlet runner beans.

                          2. Robert Lauriston RE: cugino Jun 6, 2008 08:23 AM

                            De Cecco used to be my regular everyday cheaper brand, but it seemed like it went downhill. The penne started falling apart, like they'd been partially cracked during manufacturing or shipping.

                            1. rworange RE: cugino Jun 7, 2008 08:24 PM

                              I finally tried the pricy Francis Coppola pasta which mentions the bronze plates but I think it is clever ad writing and they don't actually use them. At about $6.50 (dollar off on sale ... finally) ... skip them. The sauce was ok but I wouldn't shell out a similar amount again for either.

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