20 February 2013

Opening Night at Pasta Italia

This is not a restaurant review, because it's not appropriate to review a place on the first night that it's open. Rather, I'm just sharing an experience of revisiting a restaurant I loved that just came back to the Memphis area. And it was the day after Valentine's Day, so I was glad to splurge on a fancy dinner and introduce Julia to this very authentic northern Italian restaurant.

Pasta Italia
8130 Macon Station Dr. Suite 106
Cordova, TN 38018
(901) 751-0009

That's the basic address info, but I'm going to give some local advice since I can walk to this place from my house. It's near the corner of Germantown Parkway and Macon, but Macon is not a single street. Instead, it is an endlessly frustrating set of roads in Cordova that begin and end in different places, and there's one point where you can be at the corner of Macon and Macon. Simple directions: turn east between Walgreen's and O'Charley's and then take a right just before Gateway Tires. You'll find yourself in a charming little commercial development, and the restaurant will be on your left.

Much like the prior location in Collierville (and I assume in Chattanooga), the dinner begins with bread, olive oil, and carved chunks of Grana Padano cheese, a hard one that is well aged with little crunchy bites of naturally occuring calcium lactate crystals.

The restaurant does not have its liquor license yet, so I brought a couple of wines with me. One was a forgettable red blend, but the other was the superb 2011 Coppola Sofia Rosé from Monterey County. $19, 12.5% abv. 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache. Back in the day this used to be made from Pinot Noir, but I really enjoyed the Rhone-style blend. Dry, but with aromas and flavors of watermelon with a hint of lemon. Mild and fruity while exhibiting outstanding balance, and it was tasty with the antipasto di italiana ($23.50 for two) of cured meats and marinated vegetables. It was packed that evening, and while I had an advance reservation, I was sharing a four-top with Julia, and was feeling friendly. Maybe it was the opportunity to speak Italian with the chef and house manager, but I kept inviting people over to sit with us rather than stand outside in the cold, and the staff kept bringing extra wine glasses so I could share. I wouldn't do this to dent actual wine sales in a restaurant, but in a unique experience like this it was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed the Sofia. The hostess even saved the empty bottle so she could purchase a full one later.

Julia ordered the cannelloni di spinaci ricotta ($24.99, pictured at the top of this post), a savory treat served in the earthenware roasting dish in which it was baked. The handmade pasta was delicate and the filling was rich without being heavy. (She also proclaimed that the béchamel sauce was better than mine, and I have to agree.) We ended up bringing two of the cannelloni home with us.

I knew from an early peek at the menu that I had to have the linguini di mare ($29.99). What arrived was a massive platter of homemade linguini and a lot of seafood. I've carved turkeys on plates smaller than this one. The lighting in the restaurant is dim and a lot of the seafood was under the pasta, so what I initially thought was a big shrimp turned out to the first of two lobster tails. There were both clams and mussels, and after digging through for a while I discovered tiny squid rings, baby octopus, and scallops. Amazingly, everything was cooked just right: not raw or tough. That's very difficult to do with so many finicky ingredients, and the entire pasta dish was swimming in just enough salty seafood stock with the gentle application of herbs and garlic. Bowing to tradition, no cheese was put on the seafood pasta dish, which made me immensely happy. I thought fondly of some great seafood mixes I had in Italy along the Ligurian coast, which included a lot of the day's catch and whatever was fresh. The mix of ingredients may not be the same next week, but flavor and freshness are far more important.

Neither of us were able to finish our primi piatti, much less check out any of the meat-based secondi piatti like lamb chops and chateaubriand and veal saltimbocca. But we did have to have a little dessert. The tiramisù was a bit freeform, but light and fresh, and unlike the solid versions that are becoming denser and more like cheesecake every year. The picture of dessert did not turn out well, but I did snap a shot (with permission, of course) of the complimentary end to every dinner at Pasta Italia: vin brulè, a hot mulled red wine rich with citrus and spice. The recipe was just as good as I remembered (though perhaps a bit different from the link I provided), and just an espresso cup's worth was the perfect serving. Julia was a little hesitant about trying hot red wine, but absolutely loved it.

Overall, we had a great time. Great ambiance, friendly staff, and amazing food. I'm hoping that some of the old favorites like osso buco come back, and am also excited to see which other traditional dishes make it on the menu. As always, I encourage my fellow Memphians to escape the I-240 loop and try some of the great food out here in the suburbs.

Note: This wine was received as a sample, but the meal was on my own dime.


Corey Glenn said...

The food you ordered looks amazing, and the wine is exquisite. It’s too bad you weren’t able to try their main dishes. I wanted to hear your take on their veal and the lamb chop. It’s something to look forward to the next time I’m in Tennessee.

Corey Glenn

Ben Carter said...


If you eat there, let me know what you think! From years ago the main courses were phenomenal, and I'm confident they've retained the same level of quality.