I have always loved cooking Italian food. Pasta dishes can be very cheap and easy; as a young, impoverished student, they’re a very good option to learn.
And of course, I love eating Italian food, so over the years it has been in my own selfish interests to become good at it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no virtuoso, but the dishes I have learned I’ve at least learned to cook to my, and my wife’s, taste. That’s all you can ask for, isn’t it?
Now that Amie makes her own pasta, it’s very hard to go out for Italian food. We also have an amazing Italian neighbor who is always giving as tips, as well as samples of his own home-made tomato passata and other creations (thanks John). As a go-to cuisine we eat it often, so if we do decide to eat out somewhere, we want it to be pretty damn good.
Any of you who have read the recent post on our favourite takeaway places will know of my approval of Il Pasto. This Italian trattoria has quickly become a regular for us on nights when we haven’t wanted to cook, but this was the first time we had dined in at the restaurant.
The atmosphere is exactly what you would expect of this type of a trattoria; the friendly greeting from the staff and open dining plan lending a relaxed feeling on arrival. There are also plenty of families, something I had noticed in previous visits. We were seated outside; it was a cold evening but the area was enclosed and heated, so it felt quite comfortable.
Il Pasto is BYO, which was perfect for us. My sister Sarah and her husband Michael joined Amie and I, and we had each brought wine. I love a BYO restaurant that serves really good food as you are able to enjoy a night out for minimal cost when the budget is a little tight. Before long we each had a very nice glass of sparkling red in our hands and were perusing the menu.
It took a while to decide what each of us wanted for entrée. Il Pasto has a simple yet surprisingly creative selection of starters and pastas, making the decision a particularly hard one. All of us also like to talk, a fact which may have frustrated the waitress after repeated attempts to take our order before we were ready (she didn’t show it). In the end we all shared the Antipasto platter, which turned out to be a good choice. I also had to get a side selection of the pork fennel sausages; I’d had them before and knew everyone would love them.
The platter serves 2-3 people, so between the four of us we could enjoy it and still have plenty of rooms for the mains. It is a quality selection of Sicilian olives, goats feta and roast mushroom. The crumbed artichokes were especially delicious, which made Michael’s refusal to try one (hates them, for some reason) a perplexing one. Baby calamari and smoked salmon provides a wonderful seafood hit, while the d’Argental Lingot cheese rounds it out nicely.
We were into our second bottle of wine by the time the plates were taken away and were having a good time. There is an easy feeling to the place that makes it very comfortable and engaging, and time passes quickly. The simple décor and family photo’s on the wall lean towards nostalgia, but there is a modern take on the food and setting that lifts Il Pasto above other trattoria’s around town (and there are many).
Our mains arrived after a suitable interval and didn’t disappoint. I had chosen the aged porterhouse, medium rare. You have a choice of sides and I had decided on the sautéed spinach, roasted field mushroom, greens and potato croquette. A red wine, peppercorn and baby onion sauce to finish what was a very simple, yet delicate and delicious meal.
Amie had the Piatto Pescatore – grilled fish of the day on a tomato broth of tiger prawns, spanner crab, Morton Bay bug meat and potato. I must say when it was placed in front of her I was envious, although she did allow me a sample (we have a rule that either of us must always order something different from each other for the sake of variety and must share – not always an easy task). The broth was rich but light, and the seafood not over-cooked like it so often is in seafood broths. This was a definite highlight.
Michael had the Spaghetti Gamberi with more of those sumptuous tiger prawns, while Sarah went for the Paccheri alla Siciliana – large pasta tubes, anchovies and capers with a tomato, basil and chilli sauce. These two dishes are indicative of what Il Pasto is all about – base dishes that take you back to the “old country” made with fresh, local ingredients that give them a modern context.
Simplicity in food works, but it only works if there is a clear theme that is followed through with conviction. Of course, the chef needs to know what they are doing and be supported with good service from the wait staff to truly make the dining experience a worthwhile one. I have eaten at many a trattoria where the food and service are average, but kind of accepted that, because of the nature of the establishment – less formal and cheaper than a ristorante – you almost feel you have to accept a trade-off of quality for price.
Not so with Il Pasto. It lifts itself above the average and presents an option that, although not fine-dining, finds most other establishments in the same class wanting. The fact that it is so close to us is a bonus, and one that will surely mean that we will be back often.