Pastai: The Taste of Italian Memories

By Nadia Ghattas, Epoch Times
May 5, 2013 Updated: May 6, 2013

Perhaps it is the pasta maker, or perhaps it is the wine bar, or the aromas of the Italian sauces, or perhaps it is the small dining room with a large family-style table that looks over the small herb garden. All of these together brought back memories of old days, when I used to visit an Italian friend for Sunday supper. A sense of déjà vu—the aromas, the flavors, the wine, and most importantly, the friendships—that is what makes a meal so special.

Located in one of New York City’s hopping neighborhoods, one may say that Pastai Artisan Pasta Bar is a one-of-a-kind restaurant in Manhattan, serving authentic house-made pasta and small plates of Italian appetizers in a contemporary designed space with antique pasta-making equipment and art that represents the history of pasta-making in Italy.

Melissa Muller Daka, owner and chef, always had a passion for cooking and food. Daka started cooking at age 4 in her mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens here in New York, and in Sicily, Italy, while on summer vacation. At age 14, “I would prepare the holiday and celebration meals for the entire family,” Daka told me.

She is also proprietor of Eolo, an authentic Sicilian restaurant. Daka emphasizes traditional Sicilian-Italian cooking. At Pastai, Daka brings her distinctive interpretation on antipasti and pasta while integrating local and seasonal ingredients. All pastas served are house-made daily on the premises.

The menu offers small carefully selected plates in each section of the menu. From Bar Snacks, my friend and I had my favorites, the crunchy Olive Fritte ($8), fried breaded castelvetrano olives stuffed with pecorino cheese, and, being a nut freak, the Noci Speziati ($5), and a blend of spice-roasted almonds, pistachios, cashews, and walnuts. I do not know why, but I seem to be addicted to nuts.

From the Antipasti (appetizer), a must-have is the fluffy and crispy on the outside Croquette Di Patate ($9) stuffed with salumi, pistachio mortadella, and scamorza cheese. Who can say no to such a combination of flavors and textures?

We also had an off-the-menu antipasto, the Octopus Salad that came with fresh red pepper and greens and a simple lemon and olive oil dressing. The crispiness and crunchiness of the greens and pepper blended perfectly with the tender octopus.

My friend, a foodie, was already in heaven before we even delved into the pasta dishes we ordered. We had the Bucatini Di Farro con Cavolfiore ($12) prepared with an ancient-style hollow spelt flour spaghetti with roasted cauliflower, saffron, pine nuts, currants topped with toasted garlic breadcrumbs. It arrived al dente with a combination of gentle and delicate flavors, of sweet and of salty.

The second pasta dish was the Sagrarelle Con Ragu’ Della Domenica ($12). The ragu is made with farm-raised meats: a beef meatball with raisins and pine nuts, house-made lamb sausages, and a pork braciole cooked with herbs freshly picked from the garden. One cannot help but taste the freshness of each of the ingredients. I could not help but notice how my friend was swooning over every bite.

The menu also offers Panini (sandwiches) and Carne (meat) dishes ranging at reasonable prices of ($8–$18) considering the quality and freshness of the ingredients.

At the end of this satisfying wholesome meal, the Sfinci Di Rocotta ($7), a grandma’s ricotta doughnuts filled cream with orange-vanilla pastry and drizzled with honey that brought me back to my childhood days. My mother would prepare this for us children as afternoon snacks.

Fresh pasta to take home sold on the premises.

186 Ninth Ave.
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner until 2 a.m. daily.

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