Restaurant Review: Basta Pasteria Rethinks Fast-casual | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

Restaurant Review: Basta Pasteria Rethinks Fast-casual 

The team behind Sicilia Mia shoots and scores with their new concept.

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When I say the words "fast-casual Italian" I'm guessing the best thought we can muster is that of Fazoli's, the national chain that has long since abandoned the Wasatch Front. Whether you think fondly of Fazoli's or not is your own business, but I do remember asking myself why we didn't have more fast-casual Italian spots around. Whenever I see someone try to attempt this locally, I get a little excited only to find that they've folded after a few months in business. After visiting Basta Pasteria, a new venture from the team behind Sicilia Mia, I think we just might have a winner on our hands—and it's a helluva lot better than Fazoli's ever was.

I'm going to call Basta "fast-casual" because of its service model, but that's where the similarities between this restaurant and a spot like Cafe Rio end. The space itself is a low-key dream of minimalist style where a lone Vespa beneath giant neon signage greets diners in the entry. After checking out the menu, you can't help but notice the action behind the counter, where piles and piles of housemade pasta are being prepared before your eyes.

Even the understated gallery wall that features portraits of beautiful people eating beautiful pasta reflects a sense of style that you just don't see at other fast-casual spots. This adherence to a well-defined style also applies to the service at Basta, which is much more friendly and considerate than you'd get at your average fast-casual joint. Oh, and did I mention they serve wine? Yeah, score another one for this place.

The current menu includes some heavy hitters in the world of pasta. First up, you've got your fettuccine, showcased very nicely in the Fettuccine Parma ($15), a ramped-up, parm-forward take on your favorite alfredo recipe. Then you've got your rigatoni, which is a savory delight when served up in the Rigatoni Vodka ($17) with some fresh Calabrian 'Nduja sausage. Moving on, you've got your pappardelle, whose must-try dish is found in the unctuous richness of the Pappardelle Ragu ($18).

For my money, however, gnocchi will always have the key to my cuore Italiano. It was the Gnocchi Pesto ($14) that truly gave me pause during my visit, though you can also get its textural embrace in the Gnocchi Sorrentino ($15) with a creamy tomato sauce. But back to that marvelous pesto. It's a sauce that has always enchanted me; how can something this good be so simple? Anyone with a food processor can make pesto and have it turn out at least halfway decent. But when you get pesto like the kind they're serving out at Basta—the kind that makes the back of your knees start to give out as soon as it hits your tongue—you realize how hard simplicity actually is.

So yes, the star of this dish is the pesto. If you're feeling a little crazy, go ahead and add a chunk of creamy burrata ($5) to the party; if you're feeling a lot crazy, get some truffle ($25) on there as well. As great as the sauce is, however, let's take care not to overlook the gnocchi here. I always complain that, when you order gnocchi at most Italian restaurants, they only give you like five of them. Just because they're not long and noodly, they think they can stiff you on the quantity, and frankly this pisses me off. I'm happy to say you get plenty of perfectly prepared gnocchi with your order at Basta, so it will remain on my short list of Italian places that don't skimp on my most beloved of pastas.

If you visit Basta, you should definitely be trying one of their signature pasta dishes. However, if you want to venture out of that territory, their pizza and sides menu does a great job keeping up. The classic Margherita ($10) is an excellent baseline, and tastes like something you might enjoy at a riverside market watching the lazy current of the Arno drift through Florence. Those after something a little more unconventional on their pizza menu will dig the Basta Originale ($10), which has a funky mix of gorgonzola and salami.

On the side, I can definitely recommend the freshly-made meatballs ($10) that come piled high in a bath of marinara. They're great additions to any dish, and I won't tell anyone if you plop them right in with your pasta. The house focaccia ($6) is baked onsite, and it's fantastic; the difference between focaccia right out of the oven and really any other version of this soulful Italian bread is staggering.

I know that Basta will be described as fast-casual pretty much everywhere online, but I don't think that appellation is necessarily accurate. Fast-casual has come to represent dining that is in a league just above the drive-through outfits, and that's simply not the quality of food you're getting at Basta. I am not quite sure how the team manages to prepare and serve food that punches so far above its weight, but I hope they keep doing it for a long time.

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