Thursday, December 16, 1999
Pagrovians all know it as the quaint, century-old Victorian where Northern and Southern Italian dishes have been the specialty for almost 20 years--the result being enough hand-cranked pasta to circle the earth about eight times. Once inside the cozy interiors, the gaily decorated dining rooms and Old World charm could pretty much have you convinced that Nonna really is back in the kitchen, cranking out her dough.
A consistent "favorite pasta house" pick by Weekly readers, Pasta Mia was Maureen Signorella's creation back in 1981. A couple of months ago, Bonnie Leonard purchased the business after a lengthy search for "just the right place" that took her all the way across the country, and back again. On the heels of a long-running catering and barbecue operation in Los Gatos and Capitola, this makes Leonard's fourth restaurant venture. Her first love, it's been her second career choice after traveling the world as a Naval communications officer. "It was an experience that gave me the opportunity to eat and drink my way through Italy and Greece," she reflects, "and bring that experience back with me."
Along with the deal came most of the restaurant's long-term staff: Chef Tito Perez is a nine-year veteran, and pasta-maker Gloria Santos has been mixing each and every one of the doughs, all hand-filled, for 14 years. Many of the namesake dishes are destined to remain intact. "But we're also generating some new ideas, new energy to bring to the menu," says Leonard.
And some of that energy spills over into opening up for lunch, with a menu which Leonard is particularly excited about. Antipasti, soups, salads, steamed mussels, grilled vegetables, and daily-changing risottos and pizza offer a lot of options for not a lot of money, at $6.95. A regular menu is available as well, featuring many of the same items that appear at dinner, all of which are served with soup or salad.
With the intention of becoming known not just for pasta, the dinner menu places a newfound emphasis on beef, including prime rib, and veal, as well as fresh fish specials.
The house pick combines a Pasta Mia trademark dish--crab ravioli--with a thick, char-grilled ribeye steak. The beef is rubbed with dried herbs before being set to sizzle over the flame. The ravioli is a somewhat lengthier affair, beginning with semolina flour (they use about 400 pounds of the stuff per week.) After Gloria mixes and rolls out the dough, it's filled with a mixture of Dungeness crab and ricotta and Parmesan cheese before cutting. Served with grilled mushrooms, it's a plate that requires an appetite.
The lasagna shares equal billing, a unique, mushroom-filled vegetarian version. After the mushrooms are sauteed in olive oil they're mixed with Bechamel sauce and ricotta and Parmesan cheese before they're layered between fresh pasta sheets and topped off with cipolla sauce. All Perez' tomato sauces begin with fresh product, and the cipolla sauce is no exception. After blanching and peeling, they cook in their own juice. Whole onions are added, and removed when they've given up all their flavor. A special blend of fresh and dried herbs finishes the sauce.
Leonard feels strongly about offering a decent Italian table wine at an affordable price. She chose Campagnolo from Valpolicella. The wine list also emphasizes local and coastal varietals, such as the Mirassou Merlot, a good crossover selection to complement both pasta and beef.