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Dave's Pasta In Davis Square, Somerville; What IS My Problem??

Well, I think I have just realized that it can be a disadvantage to be an 'old-time Boston foodie.'(translation, someone who has been a foodie/food professional in Boston since 1971.) The disadvantage that I have realized is this- sometimes food institutions change (for the better) AND you don't hear about it. So you go along your foodie life, making your foodie rounds, learning about brand new businesses and products, but not discovering the improvements made on an old institution.

Dave's Pasta is an 'institution' in my mind. But what is in my mind is a little pasta shop. And I'd never gone there because for the past 25 years, I have preferred( and still do) the soft and silky non-extruded pasta from Medford's Bella Ravioli. But as I discovered last week, upon beginning my monthly Dave's Pasta benefits from a WGBH auction item, what was once a little pasta shop is now a BIG Formaggio type business with tons of diverse product. My my my. Has anyone sampled a LOT of Dave's sauces and pasta flavors, and come up with favs? Thanks much.

Dave's Fresh Pasta
81 Holland St, Somerville, MA 02144

Bella Ravioli
369 Main St, Medford, MA 02155

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  1. I do like their pastas (fresh ravioli of the month, or just their cheese ravioli) but I find their sauces extremely bland, bordering on insipid. I've tried three so far and have been underwhelmed with all of them. I had the marinara, the vodka and one other one whose name is escaping me at the moment. I'm not sure if the batches I've received were problematic or if they're always like that, but I'd recommend asking for a taste before you buy.

    2 Replies
    1. re: chefematician

      I really like their porcini mushroom ravioli; the pumpkin rav, however, is hit or miss. Sometimes too squashy and under-seasoned for me. Also, they don't last in the fridge, so you've got to use them that day or 1 day later at most or they turn. Not a knock on the pasta, just a note to anyone who wants to buy fresh but isn't going to use it right away.

      Despite my general distrust of bolognese sauces not made by me -- ; ) -- I recently tried Dave's and it was pretty insipid and WAY over oregano-ed, so much so it was inedible. Also, despite listing "beef" and "pork" on the ingredients, it tasted mostly like hamburger meat sauce, which is obviously not a bolognese.

      1. re: misscucina

        Just had a "miss" version of the pumpkin ravioli a few nights ago. Filling was almost watery, definitely underseasoned, and just plain bland.

        The chard and roasted garlic, and the artichoke and fontina have always been delicious every time I get them, but some of the other ravioli can definitely trend mediocre-to-bad.

    2. I haven't had all of their sauces, but the mushroom cream sauce is quite good when I've had it, and the arugula pesto was also yummy. That said, I feel like the taste does vary from batch to batch, maybe they should standardize their recipe a bit?
      - Gaby

      1. Some sauces are just good, but the smoked tomato cream sauce and their plain old basil pesto are to die for.

        1. I love the smoked tomato cream sauce. I use it over pasta, as a sauce for meatloaf, as as ingrediant in other pasta dishes, and when I'm really lazy, as a dip for hunks of bread.

          One of my favorite raviolis is a special that contains chard and roasted garlic. The sward is given a rough enough chop that the filling has some real texture/flavor.

          1 Reply
          1. re: LeoLioness

            oh boy, youall are being really helpful and descriptive. I did pick the smoked tomato cream sauce the other day. Whew! Brilliant suggestion for me to taste the sauces before purchase. I look forward to more comments. Thanks much.

          2. I admit that although I know home stocks cold and exhort my non-food friends on the ease and wonderfulness of stock, I have been known to pay (relatively) high prices for their frozen stock in quarts.

            I like the panforte. It doesn't stick as much to your fingers as you might think, and it's good for bringing friends on moving day, because it requires no care and can be given to tired friends at any moment.

            I don't like the pastas much (I like a different recipe for pasta fresca, and I _really_ don't like the sharp corners on the noodles from the cutter). I also don't like the frozen lasagnas, which I con myself into every couple of years or so.

            I tend to like whatever veggies are in the pre-prepared case. They're not better than I can make at home, but they're about as healthy and worth it if I'm tired. See butternut squash/onion mix, marinated mushrooms, roasted beets, spinach.

            I like the smoked tomato cream sauce as well. Not as much some of the other sauces.

            2 Replies
            1. re: enhF94

              enh, that panforte is REAlly terrific. i polished that wedge off FAST.i was a bit concerned that the fig base would result in a cloyingly sweet product, but that was not the case. The fresh flavor of the hazelnuts and almonds was quite distinct and i particularly liked the orange component and the cocoa coating. I try almost every panforte i can, and this is even better than those sold at formaggio and whole foods. i must admit that i suspect that they do not make it at dave's, but buy it and repkg it. I wonder if anyone knows........

              1. re: opinionatedchef

                Agreed on all points, including the repackaging. Sad that you're not the first to abbreviate me "enh" - sensible and totally my responsibility for picking an obscure username.

            2. Here are tips for shopping at Dave's. Print coupons from the website. One gets you a free pound of pasta with the purchase of a pint of sauce. The other gets you $2 off two pounds of ravioli. Also, I just learned that the ravioli and tortellini in the freezer case are not made by Dave's. The woman who waited on me wouldn't say where they're from.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Velda Mae

                That's odd, the raviolis in the freezer are indistinguishable from the fresh ones to me (and they're exactly the same varieties). Maybe she meant the gnocchi or something?

              2. Honestly, I've just been underwhelmed with Dave's. Even the texture of the pasta was just not my bag.

                Guess I am spoiled by homemade and memories of Biagi when they were still in the North End.

                11 Replies
                  1. re: StriperGuy

                    (aroma, i'm in your chorus) yes, stripes, have you? (see my just posted thread!)

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      Or what about Trio (before it expanded and before the lovely Tony passed). That was a weekly stop for me on my way home.

                      1. re: Small Plates

                        Oh, to munch once more on Trio's tortellini pizza. Sigh.

                        1. re: Small Plates

                          Oh, Trio's...their mushroom tortellini. Thanks for bringing that memory back.

                        2. re: StriperGuy

                          so far, i agree with you about Dave's pasta. I tried scalion pasta last night. After being impressed that it had a nice thin translucency to it (I bought sheets and cut it myself) I was totally unimpressed by the lack of scallion flavor(even though it certainly appeared to have lots of scallion flecks in it) and most of all, the fact that it was anything but silky, and took forEVER to cook. whoever heard of fresh pasta taking forever to cook? needless to say, i don't get it.

                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                            A better question is whoever heard of scallion pasta ?

                            1. re: pondrat

                              what a very odd thing to say about an american pasta shop. rip van winkle maybe?

                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                I assure you I've been wide awake for the better part of the last 58 years (except for a few years in the early 70's) :-) ....

                                Scallion ON pasta...Yes... Scallion IN pasta ? Why ?

                                That said I've had some excellent scallion sauces on fresh pasta where you could actually taste the scallion. I've also had it in ravioli where I got the full impact of the flavor.

                            2. re: opinionatedchef

                              Have the same opinion of the scallion pasta - cannot discern the "scallion'ness" of it.

                          2. Despite the name, I don't think the pastas at Dave's are the best things they sell.

                            Instead, go for a sandwich. Their cubano is outstanding. You really can't go wrong with their sandwiches.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Boston_Otter

                              To B_O's point, their Cubano and their Mushroom, Artichoke, Arugula, Fresh Mozzarella pannini are two of the best sandwiches I've had around here.

                              1. re: pondrat

                                Great. Satisfy the carnivores and veggies alike. My only quibble with some of the sandwiches is the thickness of the excellent bread. Sometimes I find it overwhelms the filling a bit. Just a personal preference, I guess.

                                1. re: bear

                                  Yes, I've been known to decapitate the second half and go the open face route. Then go back and eat the pannini top separately and wonder what the hell I just did.

                              2. re: Boston_Otter

                                I like Dave's sandwiches too, but I always keep them cold, because toasted bread + thick sandwich = scratched-up mouth.

                              3. A few thoughts from a regular:

                                The sandwiches are awesome.

                                The tomato-based sauces can indeed be a bit bland. I like the lemon parmesan cream sauce a lot, and also find that often the raviolis go best with a simple olive-oil-and-garlic sauce whipped at home - it lets the flavor of the raviolis through more.

                                The produce is not always reliable.

                                Their wine selection is great if you're looking for interesting European wines over $10. Cheap and New World wines are much more limited.

                                They recently started selling $10+ "chef-prepared" entrees on Thursday and Friday evenings; has anyone here tried them?

                                1. I don't know what your problem is, because Dave's ROCKS!

                                  The sandwiches there are awesome. Have to confess, have not had the pasta!

                                  1. The nutmeg cream sauce, which is only available in the winter, is delicious. I use it with their tomato pasta, cut papardelle, and add lobster, spinach and pine nuts. Fab. I also like the smoked tomato cream and I personally think the Bolognese is fantastic. The pesto is very good as well. I always like the butternut ravioli. The mushroom were just not mushroomy enough for me. I love their pressed vegetarian sandwich and in fact have never in the many years I have been going there got anything else - I love it so much. We don't buy their veg or meat because I have other sources for this stuff, but I do buy the crab meat from time to time because at $12 a container, it is very reasonable. I like Dave's.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Small Plates

                                      gee small, that lobster dish sounds TERRible (not)!! nice combo there. thanks to all of you for these recommendations. it's all very helpful.

                                    2. I actually prefer Dave's pasta to Capone's, Wilson's, or Whole Foods. Seems to have a bit more egg and isn't mushy. The cheese or spinach ravioli are both good comfort food, but my favorite ravioli so far is the roasted garlic-chard that Leo Lioness recommends. It isn't always available, though.

                                      I haven't been a fan of the tomato-based sauces with the exception of the smoked tomato (makes a good dip) because they are sometimes a bit sweet for my taste, but have enjoyed the artichoke-lemon pesto, the garlicky alfredo and the tapenade. I also like to buy their ricotta in bulk when I make ravioli.

                                      The selection of Italian meats is pretty good, and I've enjoyed the flank steak, eggplant parm and the excellent grilled portobellos from the prepared foods. Both the cubano and the muffaletta are terrific sandwiches. It's nice to buy the cubano unpressed and then press it at home at dinner time.

                                      I do need to get to Bella soon.

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: bear

                                        bear, exc suggestion for the home pressing. do you make a (somewhat precarious) stack of heavy pots on top?(my great AllClad comes in handy for this)

                                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                                          I'm like a broken record on this, cause I use cast iron for everything.

                                          But this morning for breky I had a pressed grilled cheese.

                                          Sharp cheddar, rye, mustard, onion.

                                          Two hot cast iron pans, sangwich in da middle. Makes a great pressed sandwich.

                                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                                            I use a cast iron grill pan, and then a heavy rectangular Lodge bacon/panini press if I'm doing one sandwich, or my Lodge (not quite an AC, but still pretty good!) dutch oven with a couple of tomato cans in it to get two sandwiches at once. Always a bit precarious, but just adds to the thrill of the sandwich.

                                            Two cast iron pans would work perfectly, and maybe be a little less tippy.

                                            1. re: bear

                                              Yah I've got a 12" on the bottom and a 10" on top. Real heavy, no fuss. Heck if I want to really squeeze it I've got a second 10" that can also go on top too. That'd squoosh anything.

                                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                                pass me that there cinder block.....................

                                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                                  You're a fragile lot. The only way to press a sandwich is the old-fashioned way -- with hot, bare feet.

                                                  1. re: FoodDabbler

                                                    I have been known to sit on sandwiches to meld them, albeit well wrapped in foil first.

                                                    1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                                      Did you mean meld as in "to combine", or did you intend to say "melt"? If you can melt sandwiches by sitting on them, you are one hot oldtimer.

                                                      1. re: FoodDabbler

                                                        Oh, FD -- you made me laugh out loud! No, I really did mean "meld", i.e, warm things so that the flavors flow together. I actually learned that trick from reading M.F.K. Fisher. And if I sit long enough, there may be some melting too.

                                          2. well, one thing to report so far. the ricotta pea ravioli s--cks. yuuuuck. all it is is ricotta and likely frozen whole peas; no seasoning, no mascarpone or egg or parm......... Pasta so thick it took way long to cook through, resulting in the filling being grainy/worthless. Even my carbonara type parm cream w/ bacon and shiitakes- couldn't save those insipid little suckers. phooey. and the ravs themselves were very poorly 'pressed' resulting in them not being separate and needing to be cut apart. i wonder if i can get them to let me substitute a cubano sandwich or 2, in place of "1 lb ravs+ 1 lb pasta+ 1 sauce" for one of the months of my 12 mo.WGBH Auction certificate>>>
                                            Has anyone out there met Dave(or is there a different owner now)? Is he a "we care" kind of guy like Ihsan at Formaggio?

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                                              I believe the raviolis are meant to be cut apart at home. (Either that or the folks at Dave's are totally incompetent.)

                                              Dave is still the owner and is often there. He has a short beard and salt and pepper hair (second column from the left on this page: http://www.davesfreshpasta.com/about....). I'm sure he would be interested in your feedback.

                                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                Yes, all the raviolis are meant to be cut at home.

                                                I have had the best luck with the fresh ravioli and in particular the seasonal / monthly specials. The roasted garlic and chard ravioli mentioned above are quite good,

                                              2. Since this thread keeps coming up, I’d like to defend the supposedly “horrible” pasta at Dave’s.

                                                I had some the other day, on a lazy day when we didn’t feel like making dinner. We also picked up some of their sauce.

                                                Is it the best pasta anywhere? No. Best even in Boston? Probably not.

                                                But it is still better than what you might find at probably 90% of the so-called Italian restaurants out there. Probably closer to 95% or even more.

                                                If you have a good source of pasta that is convenient to you, or make your own, congrats. But that doesn’t mean Dave’s flat-out sucks.

                                                P.S. "ravioli" is already plural.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Alcachofa

                                                  I agree. I use Dave's sheets for my homemade ravioli, and think the quality is quite good. They also work well (blanched for a minute or so) in lasagna. Dave's pasta seems to be a bit silkier than Capone's or Wilson Farm, the other two places that are convenient for me to get to.

                                                  Wilson Farm
                                                  10 Pleasant St, Lexington, MA 02421

                                                2. I have been a long time fan of Dave's and the pasta and also a long time fan of Bella. At Dave's I've liked the porchini mushroom ravioli and the squash ones. There have been special ones too that I liked as well. Don't overcook - no more than 6 min in already boiling water. I also get sheets of Dave's pasta for when I do lasagna and don't pre-cook them at all -- just treat them like no-boil noodles. The whole wheat pasta and my veggie lasagnas go great together -- I kid you not!

                                                  Other items I pick up at Dave's when I am in are wine and bread and cheese. I have also gotten crab/crackers/produce. Definetely certain items can be expensive. Dave is a really nice guy and is always friendly when I see him in the store, taking time to recommend wines or whatever.

                                                  At Bella I tend to go for the shaped pasta, ziti or fusilli, or some other. I also get their frozen pumpkin ravioli now and again. I love that they are open on Sunday morning.

                                                  1. I've never been to Bella's. When I buy fresh pasta, I go to Capone's in Union Square, somerville, which has great pasta, cheese, amazing frozen pasta dishes, and wonderful olives.
                                                    I was underwhelmed by Dave's pasta and also by the sauce, which was okay but not more than that. The sandwiches, however, are terrific. I'm still thinking about the steak and blue cheese sandwich. They are quite pricey, and more palatable with a Groupon or something (that's how I got there in the first place) but they are tasty enough to be worth it as a treat now and then. Plus interesting odds and ends to buy as you're waiting. Thanks for the tip on the panforte, too.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                                      the reason bella's pasta is so superior to capone's and dave's and all the other extruded pasta makers in boston(basically everybody) is that it is soft and silky from being rolled through rollers, not extruded (forced through with pressure). hope you'll try bella for fresh pasta. i've not tried their ravs., only their sheets and taglierini cut fresh pasta.

                                                      also, bear, re: making your own ravs w/ sheets: i have had fun with the help of robert and michael doing special orders for me at bella. for instance, i take down chopped cilantro and lime zest which they have added into their dough; and with my chicken cilantro filling, they have made the finished ravs for me.Cheating for sure but delish and the best of both worlds!

                                                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                        Dave's angel hair, spaghetti, fettuccine, parpadelle, and ravioli is rolled, not extruded.

                                                        Dave's will make any type of pasta/ravioli you want if you order at least 5lbs. If you are adding ingredients (like scallions) to pasta, it needs to start with a strong taste. It will only diminish further as the pasta cooks.

                                                        1. re: steve999

                                                          rolled? well i'll be darned. then i don't know why it's tough and flavorless and worthless imho.

                                                    2. And there's also a Capone's on Mass Ave in North Cambridge, between Pemberton Market and the bus depot, on the same side of the street, but I haven't been there since I work in Union Square and go to the original store.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                                        I though it was just me........... the fresh cut to order pasta is not all that.
                                                        However there is so much more to love about Daves. The pumpkin ravioli with smoked tomato cream sauce has always been a perfect match, the wines are unusual and reliable,
                                                        they use real glass for their wine tasting (very unusual) and everyone who works there is nice. It's one stop shopping, high quality, fairly priced and great sandwiches and a good scene.

                                                        1. re: holldoll

                                                          Agree with all points, HollDoll. Dave's is a fabulous operation. The pasta is not tough and flavorless. It is not the *best* I have had, but it is serviceable. That smoky tomato cream sauce is very good! One of my fav pairings is the nutmeg cream sauce and the tomato pasta, cut fettucine width, which I serve with chunks of lobster tail, asparagus and pine nuts. It is one delicious dish! :)

                                                          1. re: Small Plates

                                                            What a lovely dish with texture, color and complementary favors- and the needed spark of acid- from the pasta.

                                                      2. I'm a little late to the part here, but wanted to chime in as I love Dave's and miss it terribly after my move to the 'burbs.

                                                        Dave's traditional basil pesto is my absolute favorite. Once my then-boyfriend-now-husband introduced me to it five years ago all other pesto's are measured against Dave's.

                                                        I also love their plain cheese tortellini. Again, it's what I measure all other fresh/frozen tortellini against (and unfortunatley, more often than not the others come up short). I'm suprised that someone said that this is not made by Dave's? And I am a fan of the fresh lemon pepper pasta.

                                                        Finally, they sell this great focaccia bread- either rosemary or parmasean and I just love it. My husband and I have been known to buy a tub of pesto and one of these breads and then just eat that (dipping bread into pesto) w/a salad for dinner.