Monday, September 15, 2008

Review: Pastabilities

Name: Pastabilities
Address: 311 S Franklin St, Syracuse, NY
Neighborhood: Downtown (Armory Square)
Menu: View Menu
Cuisine: Italian, American (Traditional)
Alcohol: Full Bar
Parking: Street
Accepts credit cards: Yes
Music: Live jazz music on certain weekdays - schedule available here

Before I get into the review itself, I have this short question to let you ponder ahead of time: Is it blasphemous to not like the pasta at Pastabilities?

Getting to Pastabilities was painless. A drive through the city on W Fayette Street and available on-street parking spots right before the corner of Franklin and Fayette. Parking was a breeze on a Sunday evening.

When entering the restaurant, you're hit with a great range of sights, from the cooks next to the bar preparing meals as you walk by to dinner patrons at the window seats enjoying the views of Armory Square. At your first glance in here, you can tell Pastabilties has their entire package down: great location and ambiance, excellent lighting, clean tables and floors, and a hip and lively atmosphere. I think a lot of restaurants around the outer edges of the city, and maybe even the suburbs, could take a few basic notes from Pastabilties and improve their overall dining experience. I really believe that when you dine out you should be made to feel as if you are spending your money for a good reason and not just to eat food at some dingy, hole-in-the-wall place that makes you feel weird about eating there. But I digress.

I would put Pastabilities in the "date spot" category and it's even good for large groups of people as there is plenty of seating. And it's not just the amount of seating offered, there are about 4 or 5 unique seating sections here, including booths, private rooms, and outdoor seating, all of which provide a new point-of-view at each visit. I was seated in a cozy room in the back of the restaurant. Just to reiterate again, a short walk through the place and it's clear to see that Pastabilities has everything down: from candle lighting on each table to smooth, ethnic music coming through the speakers.

The range of food on the menu is pretty good (and the range of the wine menu should not go unnoticed). Any fan of traditional American cuisine to Italian food would most likely be able to find something of interest. Before the main courses are served, you are treated to a complimentary plate of spicy hot tomato oil and a basket of italian bread, freshly baked from Pasta's Daily Bread right across the street.

Despite the fact that I've only reviewed a few places thus far on this blog, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is the best free food in all of Syracuse (though I would have no objection if something could trump this). The sauce is amazing - a nice balance of oil, tomato sauce, garlic, and spices - so good that I even forgot to take a picture of it before eating.

I had to order it in my main meal. Here is the order...

Homemade linguine with spicy hot tomato oil and sausage: $14.25
Total money spent with tax and tip: $17.25

The service was good and my meal came out in adequate time.

Though, I essentially had three issues with this dish.

First issue: the sausage. I suppose I wasn't expecting whole pieces of sausage. I was more or less expecting pieces of sausage cut on a bias. Not only could the two links have been a little bigger, but they really weren't up to par in my book. There wasn't enough sausage-esque flavor and there was no casing on the outside. It actually tasted more boiled than grilled and easily fell apart when I pressed them with my fork. I'm not sure as to what method they actually do here as the menu didn't say. And I also don't know if this was fluke mistake or if this is the way they serve (or make?) their sausage. Either way, I was not really impressed.

My second issue: the sauce. I was really excited about getting the hot and spicy tomato oil in an entree (see picture above). But it was kind of a let-down in my main dish. It was much more oily than a tomato sauce per-se - to the point where my noodles were dripping with oil when I would pick them up with a fork. I believe the sauce is suited much better as an appetizer than as a part of an entree because there was just too much of it and it made the noodles very mushy. Without sounding pretentious, I guess I don't understand why we Americans insist on totally covering our pastas in sauce. The noodles should really speak for themselves. I even thought to myself while eating, should they rename this place "Sauceabilities"? Har har.

My third issue: the pasta noodles. The linguine noodles were too think and too short for my taste, and combined with an drippy sauce, it actually made me feel like I wasn't even eating Italian food. And this is not the first time that I've had issues with their pasta. A few months ago during my first visit here, I had the penne pasta. It was overcooked and came out soggy by the time it was served. I'm a huge believer that if you are running an Italian restaurant, or any variation thereof, that you need to have the basics down (i.e. sauce to pasta ratio and al dante pasta). I'm wondering if this pasta issue is just me or if I am merely crazy because I have not had this problem at other Italian places.

For what its worth, the dish was topped with freshly grated pieces of Parmesan cheese, which was great, but overall I was unable to get away from the entire soupy-ness of the whole meal.

So I suppose my original question about blasphemy stems from the fact that I really like everything about this place, with the exception of what it is essentially known for. And I really want to like the main entrees here, it just hasn't happened yet. Despite my picky food critiques, I do wish there were more places with the kind of atmosphere that Pastabilities has. Syracuse could use them.

My rating of Pastabilities:

Your rating of Pastabilities:


foodgirl said...

please check out the mission restaurant at columbus circle, next to the civic center and the court house in syracuse. the owner, steve morrison, ran the kitchen at pastabilities and created their now famous spicy hot tomato oil recipe. check out steve's amazing resume, hisory of the church and the mission restaurant at
but definately stop in for dinner
304 east onondaga street
syracuse ny 13202

JoeBass123 said...

thank you for the info and the website link. i will hopefully be checking out the mission soon.

Anonymous said...

Great review! Too Shy to Stop writers Eric Wilkens just reviewed Pastabilities today. You can read the review here.

Charlie said...

Good review. I agree wholeheartedly with the hot oil assessment - delicious as an app though too much for an entree. I made the same mistake after being overwhelmed with passion for the hot oil dipping sauce.

I do think you may have had a worse than average experience if you only gave this place 3 stars. It's a solid 4+ in my book, a place where it's hard to order something not worth eating. It's basically well-prepared comfort food with wide appeal in an arty, non-threatening atmosphere.

Not sure why, but it seems as though a lot of foodies in this town use Pastabilities as their personal whipping boy. It's not "fine dining" but it's good food. Perhaps folks are afraid to be associated with the mainstream, mistaken for one of the passive sheep who rave about how good Pastabilities is while in the same sentence professing their love for the Olive Garden. Ha!