37 W 17th St
(between 5th Ave & 6th Ave)
New York, NY 10011
I’ve been raving about this place for quite some time now and have already gone a bunch of times. For some reason, my photos are never satisfactory when I come. I think this is because we usually decide to go on a whim and I only ever have my iPhone with me. This time, we went with our out-of-town Turkey guests and as proper host, I finally had my camera with me. As background, Basta Pasta is a pasta place (derrrhhh) run by a Japanese owner. The dishes are subtly influenced by Japanese cuisine with a few exceptions that clearly show a cultural marriage, such as the Linguini Ai Ricci Di Mare, which is a linguini tossed with fresh sea urchin and basil in a pink sauce.
The meal always begins with a basket of assorted breads and little toasted slices of bread with a thin layer of gorgonzola spread. Bread is not warm but is pretty satisfactory, with a classic white, a golden raisin, and some other crisper/toasted white. Toasted bread and gorgonzola provides just barely enough flavor to whet the appetite. It’s surprisingly good.
We started with two orders of the Insalata D’ Anatra ($12), a salad of watercress and arugula with cherrywood-smoked sliced duck breast. This is one of my favorite simple salads because a) they give you a TON of duck for a salad; b) the vinaigrette is not too sharply acidic; and c) the arugula and watercress provides the perfect balance of tenderness and crispness. The vinaigrette is a little sweet and coats the smoked duck breast, forming what some would probably call umami. The duck is smoked such that the meat is still incredibly tender. The consistent thin layer of fat adds a bit of creaminess to the whole affair.
I had never ordered the risotto before but know that it is G.B.’s favorite so forced our table to share it as an appetizer (I know they enjoyed it so I don’t feel too bad). This Risotto Con Gomberi E Funghi ($18) is a creamy risotto with shrimp and three kinds of mushrooms. This is probably my favorite risotto dish because although it was creamy, the individual rice grains were not soggy or mushy. Risotto often comes out either undercooked or way overcooked to the point that the rice has soaked up so much sauce that it is no longer individual grains. This risotto dish had a great balance of creaminess, softness, and hardness. The rice had a chewy bite to them. Both the shrimp and mushrooms were great flavor enhancers and made the dish taste very 鲜, which in English loosely translates to “fragrant.” Shrimp added a little natural sweetness and was surprisingly fresh and not overcooked at all. It almost tasted poached.
This is the Spaghetti Con Prosciutto E Parmigiano ($16), which is served in a half wheel of parmesan cheese at the table (see first photo). I believe this is the restaurant’s most well-known dish because every table orders at least one order of it every time I am there. This dish is a classic example of great Italian pasta. There are no tricks at all – just great, simple, correctly-cooked ingredients. The noodles are perfectly al dente (J.Y. thought the noodles here were all a little too hard for his taste), the creamy sauce is light and accented with quality parmesan (unlike a lot of American carbonaras that are made with heavy heavy cream and too much cheese), and the prosciutto is so soft and even in texture that it almost just melts. No stringy tendons to be found. If it’s your first time here, I definitely recommend ordering this.
This is another one of my favorites: the Tagliolini Con Ragu Di Pesce ($18), made with homemade tagliolini, chilean sea bass ragù, capers, and shredded zucchini in spicy tomato sauce. If you want something very flavorful, this should be on the top of your list. The sauce is definitely made with amazing juicy tomatoes, as opposed to thick canned tomato paste. You can see the clarity of the sauce on the sides. IUnlike most seafood pastas, where restaurants take the opportunity to throw in old seafood that can no longer be served on their own, Basta uses fresh sea bass that is, like the shrimp, barely cooked and retains its natural sweetness and tenderness. They also give you quite a lot of fish, probably equivalent to almost an entire fillet that you would get if you ordered the $28 sea bass entree that they also have. The capers and spiciness add just enough acidity to keep you wanting more.
Since LAW got the sea bass one, I decided to try something new. I got the Spaghetti Con Mozzarella Pomodori E Funghi ($16), which involves perfectly al dente spaghetti, shiitake mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, and basil in fresh tomato sauce. First of all, I loved the baby balls of mozzarella. They were the perfect bite size so that I didn’t have to awkwardly bite off of larger pieces of mozzarella (some places serve them in large balls or slices), nor did I have to sacrifice amazing mozzarella texture (other places use shredded mozzarella – lame). The sauce was light and flavorful and tasted very interesting with the shiitake mushrooms. I’ve only really had shiitake in Asian foods but liked how Basta incorporated it into this pasta dish. It gave the tomato sauce quite a strong shroomy flavor. Basil was also plentiful and delicious.
E.R. ordered the Farfelle Con Salmone E Crema ($16), which was a bow tie pasta dish with lightly smoked salmon, asparagus, and tomatoes in tarragon grain mustard cream sauce. I actually didn’t get to try this but E.R. said it was great. It definitely looks great!
Everything listed on this blog post deserves an A (given that E.R. has trustworthy tastebuds). I have also had some not-so-great items, namely the Linguine Alle Pescatore (linguine with clams, mussels, shrimp, squid & sea scallops), Pappardelle Alla Siciliana (homemade pappardelle with eggplant, basil & fresh tomatoes in tapenade), and one of their fish specials. All three were mediocre and less flavorful than everything else posted here. I hear that the fresh sea urchin pasta is great, so in addition to the salmon bow tie pasta, I will also need to try the sea urchin one the next time I’m there. I’ll try to remember to bring a camera.
Oh, be sure to make reservations. They are always packed.