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PastaBar PHX

silverbear Feb 24, 2009 01:49 PM

The Noca pastrami thread was veering into PastaBar territory, so, as suggested, let's have a separate thread about it.

I went to PB last weekend with my wife, my mother-in-law, and my daughter.

The pros:

-- I love how PB fits into an evolving restaurant row along with neighbors Sens, the Turf, Breadfruit, and Matt's Big Breakfast.
-- I love the speakeasy feel along the lines of Kaz Bar (although that may also prove a challenge for the restaurant); You really have to know where you're going to find it (or else ask the valet attendant)
-- Excellent appetizers. That romanesco from McClendon that's been all the rage lately showed up in a vegetable platter in a nice pickled preparation alongside a salad made from kale. I've always loved cooked kale but would have considered it cruel and unusual punishment to eat it raw. The preparation at PastaBar changed my mind. Keep in mind, though, that these items are based on what's fresh at the market and may change from night to night.
-- Gracious service. It's a hip Downtown place, but our server did two things right: 1) answered questions from my non-foodie MIL without condescension 2) handled a toddler at the table effectively without over-the-top cuteness.
-- Great modern rock tunes (just like Noca) at a reasonable volume.
-- Reasonable portion sizes. Based on some skeptical remarks I'd heard from others, I expected nouvelle cuisine portions. Not at all. These portions were actually enough for any reasonable person. Four ounces of pasta seems small only in comparison to the monstrous servings at places like the Olive Garden. It's actually twice the recommended portion for most dried pastas: two ounces. The portions are satisfying but not gluttonous. I took some home and brought it to the office for lunch the next day.
-- The entrees generally worked, although sometimes in different ways than expected. My puttanesca was less tomato-y than I expected. That may be because PB is making a more market-to-table puttanesca based on what's fresh rather than a classic sauce from a fixed recipe. The bevette with lemon was very simple -- almost too much so, even for a toddler. We mixed it with some leftover tomato and mozzarella appetizer to give it some variety.
-- The charred shrimp side we ordered was excellent. The charring imparted a nice smoky flavor without overcooking the shrimp.

The cons:

-- Packaged breadsticks rather than bread. The kid loved them, but I wanted something to mop up the extra sauce. I hope this is going to be remedied. PB needs to show the same attention to bread that it does to other ingredients.
-- Had to leave without dessert due to toddler bedtime, but I hear there's very little available at the moment. Of course, the same is true at Sens. If only that gelato place on Roosevelt stayed open past 8 PM.
-- Valet parking at a restaurant three blocks from light rail offends my urbanista sensibilties. On the other hand, if it helps draw in reluctant customers, it makes business sense. As mentioned above, the valet attendant is helpful as a greeter for befuddled customers trying to find the restaurant -- no matter what mode of transport they used to get there.
-- I wonder if the name will lead some people to expect red sauce spaghetti-and-meatballs. Of course, those customers can always walk to Sbarro at ASU Downtown or ride the train up to McDowell and endure the Old Spaghetti Factory.

Overall, I see a lot of promise here with a few areas for improvement. Other impressions?

  1. silverbear Feb 24, 2009 01:51 PM

    ..and a place link to go with the thread

    -----
    Pasta Bar
    705 N 1st Street 110, Phoenix, AZ 85004

    1. m
      MesaChow Feb 24, 2009 02:22 PM

      Husband and I also went last weekend for a late lunch on Saturday. Due to the non-peak time street parking was readily available over by Matt's. It took us a few moments to figure out where to enter, as the door under the large "PASTA/BAR" sign wasn't an actual entrance (unfinished restaurant space). But once we found our way in, we had a very enjoyable meal. We also had the vegetable starter, the same as Silverbear. In addition to the romanesco and kale he mentioned, ours had a lovely side of grapefruit with small chunks of hard italian cheese (sorry, not sure which one).

      Husband had the gnocchi in sausage ragu (I believe that's what it was called on the menu). The sauce was spicy and thick, although husband was expecting chunks of sausage and there were none (they were blended in the sauce, a chef explained), and the gnocchi (ricotta) light and fluffy. I had to steal a couple, they were delicious.

      I had the Fettuccini Tagliatta. It had a brothy sauce, which was rich and meaty. We also commented (as did the table next to us) that fresh bread would have been so wonderful with the meal....particularly this dish. The pasta was tasty and I enjoyed the spiciness of the arugula when the parmigiano melted into it. The steak was enjoyable, althugh cooked past medium with the heat of the dish (server had mentioned this when I ordered).

      I, too, felt the portions were ample and a good value. We also had the olives starter and I had a glass of prosecco, so our bill came to just under $60. The ambiance was nice, the banquette comfortable, the service knowledgable and helpful, and husband particularly enjoyed the 1920's blues playing.

      My only disappointment was that the shrimp weren't on the menu during our visit. I was really looking forward to trying them. After seeing the sausage patties another table had, I'm also looking forward to trying those. Well, if I keep going down this path, this review may never end!

      5 Replies
      1. re: MesaChow
        silverbear Feb 24, 2009 02:33 PM

        Thanks for reminding me of the third item in the farm vegetable platter. I had forgotten about that grapefruit / cheese combo. Maybe because I ate if first!

        I also forgot to mention that my wife raved about her orecchiette con salsiccia -- pasta with sausage and greens.

        1. re: MesaChow
          winedubar Feb 24, 2009 02:39 PM

          we went about a week ago for lunch. we sat under the piece of pop art immortalizing jim jones, and of course made the requisite koolaid jokes ;)

          had the fritto misto that was amazing. loved the risotto croquettes and the rapini.

          i had the chitarra alla carbonara with guincale, which was resplendant. creamy, rich, delicous. i also wondered about the lack of bread. i would have loved to soak up the leftover sauce. i was tempted to drink it ;)

          friend had the chittara alla americaciana or some such spelling. sort of a rustic tomato sauce. delicious too.

          we both had iced teas, and the total bill hovered near 35.

          tasty, well plated, the place is gorgeous. they need a big sign/sandwich board in front.

          i'll happily go back

          1. re: winedubar
            azhotdish Feb 24, 2009 02:59 PM

            so i take it the prices at lunch are lower than dinner? i do not see the lunch menu (or just prices) on their website.

            1. re: azhotdish
              silverbear Feb 24, 2009 03:22 PM

              Haven't been there for lunch, but at dinner our party of four had a bill of about $120 with tax and tip. That reflected two shared appetizers, four entrees, one shared side, and four beverages (three non-alcoholic & one beer).

              1. re: azhotdish
                winedubar Feb 24, 2009 08:43 PM

                the prices looked the same. weird - maybe we got free iced tea for sitting under jim jones ;)

                the prices are on the menu. 9 bucks for the frito misto. the pasta was 17. its more than i normally spend on lunch, for sure, but it was a special lunch...

                food was great. yummers

          2. z
            ziggylu Mar 8, 2009 12:20 PM

            Can only add to the positive comment here. We had a great dinner last night. We started off with some olives, the mozzarella and tomato plate and though we were originally going to have the vegetable plate ended up iwth the fritto misto. The olives were incredible. Apparently they import them and then finish them with a brine of their own. I tried to convince them to sell jars of them. THe mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes were quite good...creamy mozzarella and ripe tomatoes served with basil pesto and some anchovies. The fritto misto was broccolini, cauliflower, arancini, and a cheese( i forget if it was romano or parm). All were very good, not greasy at all.

            For pastas, my husband and one of our friends had the orrechiete with sausage and greens, the other friend had the ravioli of the day stuffed with a ragu of lamb, veal, and...pork maybe? I forget the third meat. Finished with a brown butter sauce, tomatoes, and bread crumbs. I have the pasta with lemon, butter and parm. All were delicious. I loved the simplicity of my and the lemon flavor(I'm a sucker for all things lemon). I had some braised greens along with mine which were delicious and had lots of good garlic flavor.

            I am happy to report that all pastas were served with a slice of bread alongside. Personally, I don't miss the bread basket so the one piece to mop up the sauce I found a good touch and just the right amount.
            I'm surprised there's even discussion about portion. The appetizer portions were REALLY generous we all felt. Could have finished there and been content. The pasta portions are also more than sufficient.

            Our bill was $133 after tax which included a bottle of wine at $27 and 2 root beers. The room is small and, like so many places these days, loud(someone above commented on music. couldn't tell you what music was playing as there was no way to hear it). This isn't the kind of place you'd come for a romantic meal though so the vibrant atmosphere really isn't a point to be taken away from them.

            It's a trek for us from Chandler but one we will happily make again.

            1. themis Apr 12, 2009 06:46 PM

              We stopped here pre-symphony and were very pleased with how it's shaping up. Despite almost everything on the cocktail menu sounding right up my alley, we stuck with wine. We enjoyed the fritto misto, which this time was light on the farm vegetables, comprised of cauliflower, sausage meatballs, sausage-stuffed olives, arancini, and cheese. The addition of local local lettuces with olive oil and lemon to the antipasti made up for the lack, though.

              My husband had the gnocchi with sausage ragu that hohokam mentioned in the 'Best thing you've eaten all week' thread, and this was good enough that it stopped me cold when I stole a bite and I spent most of the rest of dinner trying to figure out how to sneak more. I had the orecchiette with puttanesca. My version had plenty of tomato; just lightly crushed, stewed pieces. It also had pignoli, large caperberries, olives, raisins, and breadcrumbs to thicken -- very nice touch. We enjoyed the braised greens (perfect!) and the crumbly sausage patties (you know, in case we didn't get enough with the fritto) for sides. The pastas now come with a plain crostini spiked into the bowl for mopping up sauce, which I liked better than getting a breadbasket -- just the right portion, and it was really good bread. I had enough for leftovers, but that sausage ragu didn't make it out of the building. My husband mopped his plate just about to a shine, getting every last taste.

              If the place does have a drawback, it's that it's family-friendly; exceedingly so, such that we were just about the only table without children. Crawling around the banquettes, hanging over our shoulders, shrieking at each other. That's not something I usually notice, but it was noticeable here. Kudos to the parents for taking their children to a place with local, farm-fresh ingredients. However, I would have to go elsewhere if I wanted a more adult vibe, or I'd recommend getting reservations past bedtime.

              No complaints about the food, the service, the space, the music, the location. It's hard for me to go out for Italian, as I like to cook it and I feel like I'm pretty good at it. But the dishes were on point, we will definitely be back and would recommend it freely.

              1. b
                Booger Apr 26, 2009 08:48 AM

                Wanted to add a few things from my visit yesterday (but don't need to rehash too much, as the other comments in this thread are very accurate).

                I would agree with previous posters that the food is excellent. It was clear that the chef is using fine ingredients. Pastas were perfectly al-dente (as should be expected), and the flavors were well balanced. I also thought the portion size was perfect. The Buffalo Mozzarella and heirloom tomato app was terrific, and quite large. I have had this dish many, many places, and this incarnation was among the best I have had.

                I still have complaints about the bread situation. Our dishes did come with a single piece of bread (an important detail, as I really wanted to mop up every drip of the left over sauces). However, my SO asked for another piece of bread, and our waiter refused. He said they offer a "Side of Bread" as an appetizer, and he would be happy to add that to our bill (he also said that they use expensive MJ bread, so don't give out extra pieces). This was somewhat offensive. Our pasta was $17 (which is expensive), I think it quite reasonable that we could expect an additional slice of baguette on request. Quite frankly, this single interaction turns me off from this restaurant quite a bit (I guess I am accustomed to a certain level of service at the places I go).

                Wanted to comment on the music. When we were there, they were playing uncensored rap music. Complete with a lot of curse words. I thought this was inappropriate. It wasn't blaring too loud, so that was a consolation, but I think a lower key choice of music would have been a wise choice.

                Overall, we thought the food, service, and ambiance were fine. We wouldn't go out of our way to visit this place, but it we happened to be in the neighborhood (which is how it worked out yesterday), we would certainly consider visiting again.

                19 Replies
                1. re: Booger
                  m
                  mkiss Apr 26, 2009 10:28 AM

                  expensive bread...what type was it-baguette?

                  1. re: mkiss
                    b
                    Booger Apr 27, 2009 08:08 AM

                    It was French Baquette from MJ Bread. I do understand that it is probably more expensive than what they could get from other purveyors. But I can't imagine the cost of one piece of bread would be more important than pleasing a customer (who eats out a lot, and is vocal on the internet!).

                    My wife said to me "Well, why don't they just use cheaper bread, so I can have more than one piece". I understand, why a chef, focused on fine ingredients wouldn't want to go that route.

                    I will give them a small pass, as they are new, and still working out the kinks, but they better get on their game fast, if they want to stay competitive in this fickle restaurant environment.

                    1. re: Booger
                      m
                      mkiss Apr 30, 2009 09:16 AM

                      MJ sells the baguette to restaurants at a whole sale price...which has to be probably a third of the cost of what LGO sells it for so I guess that would be no more than $1.50 a baguette...guess about 10 slices a baguette so 15-20 cents a slice. At Momofuku in NY, he sells bread and butter but he is serving some of the best butter made in the country and lardo-worth paying for.

                  2. re: Booger
                    hohokam Apr 28, 2009 12:36 PM

                    Timely blog post from the NY Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni:

                    http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...

                    1. re: hohokam
                      b
                      barry Apr 28, 2009 03:03 PM

                      Very timely...thanks for the link. I was out with the owner of a well known restaurant a few years ago, and he told me he spends $50,000 per month on bread and butter. Although I agree that once bread is offered complimentary by the restaurant, refusing a request for another piece is petty and poor service, I never realized the expense to the restaurant can be so great. I think we'll see more and more restaurants offering bread as a menu option and not complimentary.

                      Barry

                      1. re: barry
                        hohokam Apr 28, 2009 09:27 PM

                        There's a bit of a history/back story vis a vis bread service at PastaBar. As I understand it, because of the cost issue, the owners were not planning on offering any bread beyond the grissini that one still finds on the tables as part of the basic set up. As a response to the grumbling of the masses, Wade and Nick compromised and started including a single 1/2" slice of reasonably substantial bread (not a typical airy baguette) with each bowl of pasta. Personally, I'm happy with this amount of bread--I admit to using every bit of it, but I haven't found myself needing more.

                        For me, whether or not they should bring more bread upon request, is not a clear-cut question. On the one hand, one could see the bread as a something that is freely given in unlimited amounts, but on the other, one could view it as a part of the dish. Should a person expect to get an extra half of a baked potato just for asking as long as a "free" potato was included with his steak?

                        The server probably could have handled the situation better, perhaps by explaining the policy and then giving the additional bread with the proviso that on future visits the guests should expect to pay for additional bread. That combination of information and hospitality would satisfy me, but I realize for those who view the complimentary bread basket as an inalienable right, even this would not stand.

                        Who knows? Maybe they should re-compromise by providing two slices with each dish. Maybe they should just bump the price of each dish by $0.50 to recoup the cost of the bread. Maybe they should cut corners elsewhere so they can offer high quality bread for free, or as Booger's wife suggested, offer cheaper, and possibly lower quality, bread. I guess the restaurant will just have to figure out how to find a balance between managing costs and customer satisfaction.

                        1. re: hohokam
                          ejs1492 Apr 28, 2009 09:39 PM

                          Well stated, hohokam. You raise some really good points. I always questioned why Houston's (the chain) charged extra if bread was requested but, in the grand scheme of things, it all makes sense.

                          Unless you're at Olive Garden, the bottomless breadbasket is not an inalienable right.

                      2. re: hohokam
                        b
                        Booger Apr 28, 2009 04:15 PM

                        Great link, and quite timely. I guess "The Bread Dilemma of 2009" is just another sign of the times.

                        I feel like complimentary bread is an easy way for the restaurant to be hospitable, and make the diner feel welcome and valued. At PastaBar bread is a required component of the meal (necessary to mop up the leftover sauce, which is obviously the core of their menu), it should be readily available.

                        I can understand that a restaurant doesn't put baskets of bread on every table (understanding the food costs, and amount of likely waste), I think it is poor service to refuse a single extra piece to a guest.

                        Clearly, from the amount of discussion relating to this issue at PastaBar, it is important. I just hope they realize their error before they alienate too many customers.

                        1. re: Booger
                          hohokam Apr 28, 2009 09:35 PM

                          I think my post to barry applies here too. In short, for me it's a tough call. I'm sure they want return customers, but they don't want to lose money by giving away food.

                          Sounds like the server probably could have handled better, perhaps as I described above or maybe by comping you the extra bread and taking the cost out of his own pocket. But who knows? Maybe the servers have been given strict orders about the bread policy?

                          It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

                          1. re: hohokam
                            Seth Chadwick Apr 28, 2009 10:18 PM

                            It will indeed be interesting to see how they proceed, but I hope they use some very well needed caution in working this out (if they choose to do so). Considering the current economic climate, they could easily been seen as nickle and diming customers and that is not the meme you want circulating around town.

                            What I am puzzled by, however, is why they didn't stop to consider the psychology of the situation. If they had increased the prices of everything on the menu by, say, $0.25 or discontinued the packaged breadsticks to balance out the costs, I doubt this issue would have been raised.

                            Additionally, the article by Bruni is interesting but I wonder if there would have been a different reaction if the word "bread" had been replaced with "ketchup" or "creamer" or "ice."

                            1. re: Seth Chadwick
                              winedubar Apr 29, 2009 08:11 AM

                              good point, seth, and in a sense, with respect to the ice, i think that some restaurants, tangentially at least, have started to make that point.

                              i remember a couple of years ago when restaurants all over the country started the campaign about 'dont ask for water unless you really want it'. for me, i never ask for tap water at restaurants. i hate phoenix city water taste, and i'l just have the iced tea.

                              but the reason for this, the water issue, was the waste of resources - if you have a glass of water, the restaurant has to use at least 3 cups/sinks/measure of it to clean your glass. one for washing the glass. one for rinsing the glass. one for sanitizing the glass. and if you don't drink it and it just sits there, thats a whole lot of water down the drain, literally.

                              so if you weren't going to actually drink the water, it was a waste of it to prep the glass for you. sort of like hotels asking you if it's ok not to change sheets every single day, if you are going to be there for a couple of days. it's a waste of natual resources.

                              i do think in the era of green, and as time progresses, due to the economy or the environment, we really haven't seen the end of these kinds of issues.

                              restaurants are already purifying their own water instead of serving bottled (remember that hot topic?). this is just the beginning i think.

                              1. re: Seth Chadwick
                                hohokam Apr 29, 2009 09:30 AM

                                I'm not sure the analogies hold. One difference to consider from a cost perspective is that bread can be costly and is highly perishable, whereas creamer and ketchup are relatively inexpensive and have shelf lives of several days and months, respectively. Open a $2.00 carton of half and half, and you have a week to use it up. Break the crust on a $4.00 loaf of bread, and you pretty much have to use it up or toss it that day. A days old loaf can be turned into bread crumbs, but it can't be served in a bread basket.

                                Likewise, spoilage isn't really an issue with ice, which is something that most higher end American restaurants would keep on hand no matter what.

                                To be sure, everything counts, but not in equally large amounts.
                                (my apologies to Depeche Mode)

                                1. re: hohokam
                                  silverbear Apr 29, 2009 10:10 AM

                                  When it comes to a free breadbasket, sometimes "the grabbing hands grab all they can." Sorry, couldn't resist.

                                  I can understand paying extra for bread as long as the expectation that customers will do so is clearly spelled out. In a way it may be more problematic for PastaBAR to offer a single piece of bread with the entree. That free intitial piece of bread may create expectations of unlimited free bread.

                                  There's really no easy way around this dilemma. High-quality bread is a significant cost, but customers have come to expect it at no cost. I think the discussion is far from over.

                                  1. re: hohokam
                                    themis Apr 29, 2009 10:22 AM

                                    I agree, I don't think the items mentioned are analogous.

                                    I am the weirdo who finds a breadbasket on the table to only serve as stomach filler and resents it getting in the way of better food to follow. I don't order/eat fried rice for the same reason. PastaBar's philosophy on bread service is perfect, in my book. I do want the one perfect piece for mopping, but beyond that, anything put on the table would be wasted. The bread isn't free for the restaurant; I don't consider myself entitled to it for free.

                                    However, take me to a place that claims to be a New Mexican restaurant yet does not automatically bring you sopapillas after the dinner dishes are cleared, and see for yourself the boundless depths of my hypocrisy. ;). It's just what I was brought up with and what I am used to, and to have to order it for yourself just seems wrong. "What do you mean, do I want sopapillas --I'm *here,* aren't I?"

                                    Regarding the posts following about the food being salty -- I find this is the new thing with Italian food, I think it may be that our palates will have to adjust with the higher-end, newer restaurants. It may have started here with the Batali storefronts, which to me, reflect the higher salt content I noticed in the travels I did in southern Italy. I did find my fritto misto to be saltier than what you'd get at an American chain, but I don't mind. I don't have any sodium sensitivities, I say, bring on the flavor, please don't dumb it down anymore for American palates. Not to mention, we live in the desert, we need our electrolytes! My husband, though, thinks salt is universally evil and tasting it in food kind of freaks him out.

                                    1. re: themis
                                      z
                                      ziggylu Apr 29, 2009 03:11 PM

                                      I lived in northern Italy(lake district) for two years. I don't remember the food there being salty in nature though of course the north and south are so very different.

                                      I can only speak to my beet greens. They were oversalted by any measure. THe rest of our meal was fine. Restaurant food is salty by nature and nothing I"ve had at PastaBar other than the greens has been beyond that norm. This was clearly a case of someone's hand in the kitchen being too heavy.

                                      As for the bread service, I find the one slice of bread to be just perfect. I wonder how many people ask for another slice? If it's just a small minority it may be worth their while in terms of goodwill to go ahead and bring a piece when someone asks. If it's more than a small minority than a note on the menu "pastas served with one piece of artisan bread. Additional slices available at $.25/slice" would clearly communicate to the diner what to expect.

                                      1. re: ziggylu
                                        hohokam Apr 29, 2009 03:13 PM

                                        I like this suggestion.

                                        1. re: ziggylu
                                          b
                                          Booger Apr 30, 2009 08:32 AM

                                          This would be a more than reasonable solution. We were offered a basket of bread, which they said was offered on the menu as a appetizer (I don't see it listed though, so I have no idea how much it is).

                                          We would have paid for an additional piece of bread, but we only wanted one, not a whole basket. We were given an additional package of the breadsticks that are on the table when you sit down, which are woefully inadequate for mopping up sauce.

                                          BTW, my wife is not happy at all with the moniker "Boogers Wife" ;-).

                                          I do wonder if the owners of PastaBAR read this forum, as you do hope they are aware of the problem (and some of the great solutions offered). As a loyal Chowhounder, I appreciate proprietors who participate in this community.

                                          1. re: Booger
                                            silverbear Apr 30, 2009 11:28 AM

                                            The owners of PastaBAR have previously participated in Yelp Talk threads, which are less aggressively moderated and more of a free-for-all than Chowhound boards. The results were -- ahem -- interesting. Let's just say that they are aware of the bread issue.

                                            1. re: silverbear
                                              ipsedixit May 1, 2009 08:52 AM

                                              I have no problems with PastBAR, or any restaurant for that matter, charging for bread or providing it gratis.

                                              What's important, however, is to disclose your policy ahead of time. I think this is where PastaBAR slipped.

                                              If they were going to limit the bread to one slice per entree, make it known to the diner beforehand. Then it just wouldn't be an issue.

                          2. s
                            suebtru Apr 26, 2009 08:47 PM

                            I tried Pasta Bar a few weeks ago after hearing all of the praise and found everything to be phenomenally salty. I really want to believe that the chef had an off-day as I'm thrilled to see the downtown restaurant scene expand with such promising places. Has anyone had a similar experience?

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: suebtru
                              z
                              ziggylu Apr 26, 2009 08:52 PM

                              We were there this past Wed night. While overall we really enjoyed our dinner our beet greens were too salty and we couldn't eat them. When we mentioned to the server, we were informed it was because the beet greens were lending a salty flavor. Uh, no. We eat them at home frequently and have never had this issue. Oversalted is oversalted, just own it and don't try to convince the customer they're clueless.

                              They took them off the bill for us so in the end no harm no foul overall as everything else we were pleased with.

                              1. re: suebtru
                                hohokam Apr 27, 2009 08:17 AM

                                All of the food we've had there has been properly salted, according to my tastes.

                                1. re: suebtru
                                  a
                                  andyeats Apr 27, 2009 09:36 AM

                                  My wife and I went w/ a friend last Wednesday and we were all underwhelmed. Perhaps it was an off-day...

                                  We shared a carbonara, tagliatta, and calamari. The carbonara and calamari were oversalted. Both pastas were served lukewarm. The tagliatta was underseasoned.

                                2. t
                                  tetedeveau May 3, 2009 09:20 PM

                                  Attitude Problem/Disrespectful Service and Adequate Food

                                  I am a longtime lurker on CH and haven't really felt the need to comment/reply before but I had an experience at pasta bar so aggravating that I felt it necessary. I was a chef for a long time and trained at the CIA and nowadays I eat our virtually every night. For my italian needs in PHX I cover the spectrum from "Classic Italian Pizza", Pizza A Metro (excellent pastas), Digestif, etc. I have a standing reservation at the french laundry. Those are my credentials if you think I am some kind of typical phoenix diner expecting 5 pounds of pasta with Ragu for $4.99 .

                                  I was really excited about the idea of a place serving fresh pastas with local ingredients in a city where most people think italian is the Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill. After reading the discussion about charging for bread I took note but wasn't particularly put off, I can understand the food cost issues potentially involved and combined with the insane portion expectations here in PHX it added up.

                                  Menu, wine, etc seemed decent but nothing you wouldn't find at 10 or 15 places along columbus in North Beach, definitely a little above bar for phoenix. I went to order an entree which was a fettuccine with fennel, hot peppers and anchovy. I had had an anchovy pizza for lunch and I just wasn't in the mood for more but I really wanted some fennel. When I asked the waitress for the dish without the anchovies she refused. Not because it was already part of the sauce or something like that but because "it is a vital ingredient that would change the profile of the dish". It is their policy never to change menu.

                                  When I said that means we wouldn't be coming back to the restaurant she shrugged and so "OK" with a face daring me to leave right then, we would have if we all weren't so hungry. I also wanted to see if somehow this was going to be corrected. I am a calm guy, there were no voices raised or anything but I have to say I don't think I have every felt so disrespected at a restaurant, not even as an american in france, or and american during bush in italy.

                                  I think this puts the whole charging for bread thing in context, if there had been a modicum of contrition about their "policies" I might not been so aggravated but I think PastaBar is a place with a hipster feel and attitude gone horribly wrong. Based on the number of diners at 8:30 on a saturday I think their service issues are taking a toll, I think there were 6 other covers who looked like they had been their a while. I really did not get the sense whatsoever that this was an exception like someone having a bad day or just a problem staff member, they were so casual about how much they didn't care for my business that it has got to be a systemic attitude probably coming right down from the chef.

                                  For example at Babbo and other Bastianich places I wouldn't say they are very friendly to menu changes but I have never been treated like this and if I haved asked nicely as I did here they have always honored my requests.

                                  Take your money to Digestif or any of the other fine psuedo-italian kaspersky establishments and we will all be better off when this gets replaced with something more interesting. I don't think it will be a long wait.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: tetedeveau
                                    ipsedixit May 3, 2009 10:14 PM

                                    What an unfortunate situation.

                                    And I agree with you about the lack of contrition on the substitution request. While I may not like the fact that the kitchen will not substitute an ingredient on request, I can certainly respect it if that decision was communicated with a bit of tact and courtesy.

                                    1. re: tetedeveau
                                      silverbear May 3, 2009 10:42 PM

                                      There is definitely a take-it-or-leave-it approach at PastaBAR. It will be interesting to see how many people elect to take it and how many elect to leave it.

                                      I still like the restaurant, but I do wonder about its prospects given some of what I've seen and heard. I think one problem here is that PastaBAR is being run by two chefs -- two talented chefs, but two back-of-the-house guys nonetheless. In my experience, most successful restaurants balance back-of-the-house chef-can-do-no-wrong attitude with front-of-the-house tact and diplomacy.

                                      1. re: silverbear
                                        Seth Chadwick May 3, 2009 11:19 PM

                                        It will be very interesting to watch indeed, and I will will reiterate my concern that this is exactly the WRONG time for almost any restaurant to take the "our way or the highway" approach (legacy restaurants notwithstanding). Every person I know is being very skittish about how they are spending their money and while they are not stopping their dining out, they are being very keen about which restaurants are working for their business versus those that think they are doing people a favor by having their doors open.

                                        Today, I was craving a soup and sandwich and stumbled into the Wildflower Bread Company at 44th and Indian School and had a nice lunch. During my meal, two managers swept through the dining room checking on diners, offering to fill soda glasses and coffee cups, clearing tables, asking if patrons needed more napkins or wanted more bread, etc. They were hustling and I chatted with one of the managers who said, "With the economy the way it is, we need to do better." Boom! He got it.

                                        The "take-it-or-leave-it" approach is a very dangerous game in a recession, especially for a new restaurant.

                                      2. re: tetedeveau
                                        winedubar May 3, 2009 11:36 PM

                                        hi there,

                                        i've been to french laundry too and thomas keller ain't changing a dish for anyone. same with my trip to po. the dish is what it is, and mario ain't changing it either.

                                        no offense, but i re-read your post 3 times, and not once to you mention the food you ate. what it was like, how it tasted, any of it.

                                        1. re: winedubar
                                          t
                                          tetedeveau May 4, 2009 07:56 PM

                                          I don't want to turn this into a TFL thread but they are extremely accommodating there. They will make the veg tasting menu vegan if you ask beforehand (I would suspect they could make it fruitarian if you asked nicely) , they will include or exclude pretty much anything they can. If you want independent confirmation I suggest you read "Service Included" by Phoebe Damrosch about Per Se and the sometimes bizarre requests they made way for there. Note that it isn't really an a la carte menu so if you have something you really need to let them know when you make your reservation or asap possible upon arrival as the prep specific for your table may already be complete and problematic to change or remake. They obviously can't honor every request but I have never had one that is reasonable and feasible refused. I will say that I have eaten there enough times that perhaps they have a slightly different relationship with the staff than someone "off the street" but in my experience those coming for the first time receive the same outstanding level of service I have, I have never seen or experienced any condescension or pretension there except from other guests (or maybe you consider single cow butter pretentious but TETO) . Perhaps the most famous example of off-menu at TFL was the special tobacco leaf course made for Anthony Bourdain so he wouldn't need a smoke break, that is service.

                                        2. re: tetedeveau
                                          b
                                          Booger May 4, 2009 08:43 AM

                                          Winedubar, with all due respect, I have to support tetedeveau on this (regarding not discussing the food in his post). This thread has clearly become about the service missteps at PastaBar.

                                          I think there are some big issues with this place. It is clear to me that, due to some quite minor service missteps, they are alienating the foodie community, which can't be good for their restaurant (regardless of how wonderful the food may or may not be).

                                          French Laundry has earned the right to set their policies (and from what I understand, certainly understand how to handle service situations with tact). PastaBar needs to try a little harder, since they are the new kid on the block (and the block is filled with many alternatives).

                                          Let's just hope its not too late, as I appreciate what the Chef's are trying to do regarding fresh, local ingredients, at a reasonable price-point.

                                          1. re: Booger
                                            winedubar May 4, 2009 12:00 PM

                                            booger,

                                            i'm immediately skeptical of any poster that's first, or maybe second post is to slam a place, which is the case here. other than to say he was upset that the 'no substitutions' policy was irksome, there was zero mention of the food that was consumed. again, with all due respect to posters everywhere, that's a giant red flag.

                                            i really don't see how they are alienating the foodie community. but i do think that this is a topic for a new thread.

                                            1. re: winedubar
                                              t
                                              tetedeveau May 4, 2009 08:01 PM

                                              I certainly respect the your point and encourage people to reach their own conclusions. I think I summed up the food with "there are 10 places like this on columbus in North Beach". The only thing special about pasta bar in terms of food is that it is in phoenix. I also don't think it would be a fair for me to critique the food more specifically given the perspective I was coming from at the time, given the atrocious service, I can't enjoy food in that state of mind let along critique it.

                                        3. drewb123 Jun 11, 2009 12:14 PM

                                          Went to Pastabar last night as my hubby begged and pleaded, he loves italian. my friend had the carbonara, I had the side of meatballs and my husband had ???

                                          Anyway to conclude my thoughts we prob won't be returning unless we are starving and ther'es no other place to go at midnight. The portions were small for a big guy and the carbonara my friend suggested he could make better.

                                          The meatballs were a generous serving for $7 but they were okay almost a sweet and spicy taste.

                                          I was fully unaware that the chefs were from Sassi, honestly if I would have done my research I wouldnt have checked it out as I am not a fan at all of Sassi.

                                          I wouldn't rec pastabar but hey that's my opinion

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: drewb123
                                            b
                                            bonita Jun 14, 2009 10:13 AM

                                            I don't want to beat a dead horse but here goes: A little message about changing a menu item to suit the diner. Some dishes can be changed with no effect on the outcome. When you have something as obviously integral to the taste as anchovies, then, no, you cannot leave them out. Most menus are inclusive enough for a diner to find something to eat without making major changes. If cheese is only sprinkled on top, then you can ask for the cheese to be left off but if cheese is an ingredient in the sauce, then you're out of luck. When a diner asks for too many changes, the dish becomes a totally new dish. I suggest that people check menus online before they go to eat. Then they will know if the options meet with their approval. If not, choose another restaurant. That way, everyone will be happy. Remember, when a chef conceptualizes a dish, she aims for a pleasing flavor profile. Leave off an ingredient and that profile changes. End of sermon. Oh, I do agree about service, though. That's what makes Noca so perfect!

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