Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Pasta da Panza

Hi guys! Recently I've had the chance to try out a small joint specialized in pasta named Pasta da Panza. The experience was organized by MTL Promos and chef Lucio Panza and his lovely partner in crime Sarah.

The place is located in Laval. Laval I thought ... why would I go there? But I thought to myself if the food and the service are worth it people will be willing to drive all the way there. And let me tell you ... it was worth it.

The concept is pretty simple : you can eat on the spot or order to take out some fresh homemade pasta with the sauce of your choice. The restaurant has been opened for about a year and a half now but chef Lucio has been cooking for about 12 years. Talk about experience!

When you step into the place you automatically feel at home. The decor is very simple and bright. The arrangements and choices of accessories seem very personal and don't convey any pretension at all. You can walk in wearing your best attire from your favorite Canadian designers or wearing a simple t-shirt and jeans. I felt comfortable and welcome right away.

The walls display works of art that are for sale and add brightness without looking tacky. Once in a while the frames are changed and who knows, maybe the next time I drop by things are going to look totally different for me.

The guys and I dropped our stuffs and started walking and peeking around shamelessly. The open kitchen made us feel safe and let us have a very close look behind the scenes ... well, not so behind in a certain way.

While Lucio was starting to work on the pasta, Sarah brought us a plate of focaccia bread with olives and beans with a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar. By the way, we asked Lucio to surprise us so everything we had that night was of his own creation and imagination.

The focaccia was simple but felt good on our empty stomachs (well I'm always hungry so my opinion may be biased). We didn't finish our small plate of antipasti because once we saw chef Lucio working on the pasta machine we jumped right off our seats to watch him do his magic.

It was mesmerizing. Seeing him work the dough through the pasta machine, flipping it and putting it back through the pasta machine with such fluid gestures and confidence was soothing on my mind. I have to admit I was quite brain dead because of work that day and that just really made me stop worrying about adulthood and responsibilities. It was also surprising to see the amount of pasta you can make from a single ball of fresh dough.

Obviously once he started cooking I couldn't help it and kept staring at him like a child visiting an exhibition on dinosaurs for the first time. In the meantime Sarah was chatting with us on everything and nothing. I didn't feel like I was eating out in a restaurant. I felt like I was going to have dinner at home with friends.

Even though Lucio was focusing on the cooking and plating, he was still able to calmly hold a conversation with us. I just enjoyed seeing how much care he put in every step as if every plate was made for a very special person. I didn't know him and yet I felt special.

Now I have a confession to make. I am not a fan of pasta.

What the f- Sarah?

Yeah I know. But when I was asked if I wanted to try that place out, I said yes because I thought to myself if I like what I'll have then I know it's the real deal. Also I gotta keep an open mind so I like to challenge myself from times to times. Says the girl who's willing to eat the grossest animal parts but not pasta.

First off, have a look at our tagliatelle no-cream carbonara.

Did I say no-cream? I did. When done right, carbonara is already quite a rich meal. Think about it : there's an egg yolk and pancetta in there. With fresh pasta and good quality ingredients you don't need to overdo it with cream, make it heavy, and hide all the delicious flavors that make this classic Italian a favorite for many of us.

And guess what? As we dug in, it didn't feel heavy at all and yet it was creamy despite the fact that no cream was used in this recipe. I was also pleasantly surprised at how much I was liking what I was eating. I found the seasoning perfect : I did add a bit of Parmesan but then I felt like I was disgracing something that was already very good as is. I didn't even think about asking where were the salt and pepper shakers because they were absolutely not necessary.

Next up : caramelle arrabiatta stuffed with ricotta and spinach with 'nduja rubbing.

Look at how beautiful and perfect they look! Kinda like candy in their wrappers, but instead of a sugary content you have a pleasant light ricotta and spinach mix.

The arrabiatta sauce was obviously made from scratch and didn't contain any out-of-place ingredients. As we would scoop out the caramelle some of the 'nduja rubbing (what looks like a red rim) would mix with the arrabiatta sauce and add a little spice but not too much. But you guys know I can handle hell of a lot of spice so I cannot guarantee everyone will be able to handle this.

Truthfully that was my favorite. Why? Because it was so light even though it was stuffed. The arriabatta and the ricotta felt very refreshing. I think I could have eaten the whole thing by myself and feel full without feeling stuffed.

Now on to the purple gnocchi with creamy pesto.

Purple gnocchi? What did they add, like, purple food coloring? Actually they did not. As Sarah explained to me, they use purple yam, hence the vibrant purple color and the slight sweet taste you get once you dig in.

That plate was a bit heavier than the others and could be shared between two persons with entrées. Despite being heavier it wasn't drowning in cheese and pesto and I believe chef Lucio's magic hand knew exactly the right quantities to use so the gnocchi would still be the star of the show. The fact that it was gratiné added a little extra crunch but the gnocchi remained soft so it was a pleasant experience in terms of textures.

As if we weren't being spoiled enough, a little surprise appeared on the table : meatballs on focaccia bread topped with ricotta.

So simple yet so good. The meatballs didn't feel greasy at all but they were tender. They weren't dripping with juice but they didn't feel dry either. Even though I was starting to get full they didn't feel like they were too much. The subtle touch added by the ricotta made them feel even lighter.

I'll have to admit the guys and I were trying not to pig out on the food. It was so simply delicious but at the same time everything seemed crafted with such care it would have been a disgrace of us to handle the food like hungry kids.

I've always thought that good food doesn't need to be overdone. Start off with fresh ingredients, choose them carefully, know your techniques, understand how flavors and spices work together and you can impress even the most difficult person with simple meals done with passion and no pretension.

The sun was setting down and we took our time to talk to Lucio and Sarah. Absolutely lovely people. The kind of people you want to be friends with and invite over for dinner. Seriously. You talk to them and you can tell they have a love for food and a certain understanding of it that most people don't, just like with arts. Lucio's fresh pasta is so amazing that he supplies about five or six restaurants in Montreal. Only 28 years old, he is full of interesting ideas that could really make people look at pasta with another eye and mindset. Creativity is in the heart of his business, and his food.

So should you give this place a try? Hell yeah you should. You can also reserve the place for a special event or give them a call and ask about their catering service. Remember : I am not a fan of pasta. But I would love to come back and try other combinations and even desserts. Speaking of which, do you know they make chocolate ravioli? I definitely have to try that out.

And so that's it for now folks. Until next time!

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