"Sorta close to Italy." So reads the back of the staff shirts at Pastaria (7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-6603). The newest addition to chef/restaurateur Gerard Craft's portfolio is a far cry from the Italian countryside. (Five thousand miles, give or take.) Modern touches such as floor-to-ceiling glass cover the entire front of the restaurant overlooking Forsyth Boulevard in downtown Clayton. Yet in the midst of such clean, modern lines there are signs of Italy, like the wood-fired oven that anchors the open kitchen and the photos chef de cuisine Adam Altnether and the Pastaria team shot during a trip to Italy.
Pastaria general manager Jon Meinz explains, "When they went to Italy, they went into families' homes and got that idea of really what Italians ate, what were some of their comfort foods, and realized how food brought families together. [Craft] wanted to incorporate a very family-orientated restaurant here at Pastaria."
Gut Check paid a visit shortly after the restaurant's first weekend of business. A platoon of front-of-house staff stood at attention on the far side of the dining room. While the restaurant is large, communal tables break up the dining room, creating more intimate spaces.
In addition to the regular bar, there's a small section of bar seating that faces the massive wood-fired oven, allowing diners to gander at their meal. Another feature is a second open kitchen, featuring a pasta maker and a gelato freezer case, both of which are visible from the street.
Gut Check ordered risotto balls, mixed with mozzarella cheese and fried, then served with two sauces alongside: one tomato-based, the other an herb aioli. We also tried a staff favorite, canestri cacio e pepe -- essentially a mac & cheese for grownups. Composed of large, house-made canestri (named for their vaguely basket-like shape), two cheeses (Grana Padano and pecorino) and black pepper, the dish is pure Italian, with minimal ingredients and maximum flavor.
The menu features a number of salads, pastas and wood-fired pizzas, with everything priced under $20. Desserts include house-made gelatos and sorbets of various flavors. Meinz says lunch service will be coming in the next month or so, and that a small retail space will be incorporated into the front of the restaurant. For now the retail offerings will focus on take-home pasta and gelato, but Meinz says there are plans to add cured meats, olive oil and other merchandise.
Note: Pastaria does not take reservations unless it's for a party of six or more, so plan accordingly.