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PastaBar PHX

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?

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  1. ..and a place link to go with the thread

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

    1. 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

        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

          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

            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

              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

                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. 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. 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. 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

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

                  1. re: mkiss

                    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

                      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

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

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

                    1. re: hohokam

                      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

                        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

                          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

                        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

                          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

                            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

                              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

                                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

                                  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

                                    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

                                      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

                                          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

                                            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

                                              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.