Pasta Mia branches out with wood-fired pizzas.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
Downtown Butterfly Town just started to feel a little more bright lights and big city. Pasta Mia recently installed eight thousand pounds of wood-fired pizza ovens, and the long under-utilized first floor of this quintessential PG dwelling-turned-restaurant finally found its mission in life. The Pasta Mia Pizza Grotto lends a little of that pubby, neighborhood bar feeling that until now has been missing from Pacific Grove''s main street, and is hand-tossing some painstakingly prepared pies to add more to this appealing mix.
Upstairs, proprietor Bonnie Leonard''s menu reigns the same as before. A wide selection of house-made pastas, seafood, veal and steaks comprise this California-inspired Italian menu matrix.
The charming feel of the place belies the fact that the several smallish dining rooms will actually accommodate more than 120 guests. "It''s that Winchester Mystery House concept," as Leonard wryly tells it. "As long as the owner kept adding on, she wouldn''t die!"
Homey and comfortable, rather than rambling, the ambiance spills over into the comfortable, red-checkered intimacy that the new Grotto offers downstairs.
The menu brags that they''re "not just another pizza joint," so we took them up on the claim on a recent excursion. The signature crust is described as homemade, from a combination of high gluten unbleached white and rye flours with extra virgin olive oil, yeast and fresh herbs, done in a manner that yields a soft and chewy crust, and put together just like it''s done in Italy-by hand.
The sauces, it is further noted, are slow simmered and not used until a day later, to allow the flavor to develop overnight: Fresh whole milk mozzarella, fresh grated Asiago and goat cheeses, and locally made sausages.
OK. We were primed. A ten-inch prosciutto with fresh mozz was ordered and fired, along with another ten inches of the irresistible-sounding malanzane, done up with roasted eggplant and Italian goat cheese, both offered at $11.95. For starters, stuffed mushrooms ($5.95) got things going along with glasses of decent, wallet-friendly Merlot-quaffable, cheap ($3.95 a glass) and essential to the little neighborhood cafe experience. An ample selection of tap and bottled beers are another option, as are some lower-than-usual-alcohol cocktails that keep the place in a rather quirky compliance with Alcohol Beverage Control licensing.
The mushrooms were good-sized and abundantly stuffed with a duxelle of more mushrooms, Asiago and gratin of crusty breadcrumbs. Good, if somewhat underdone. (I would have roasted the mushrooms prior to firing them, stuffed with the filling, if it was me wearing the chef coat.) The Italian salad was wearing a spritely, nicely balanced vinaigrette, and the Kalamata olives lent a nice touch--$5.95 and enough for two to share.
To quote the menu hype, we were ready for our "adult pizza," and the two pies arrived hot and melty, right out of the oven and nicely timed. While the prosciutto seemed a little more like Black Forest ham, there was a nice balance of flavors between the saltiness of the meat and the creamy, mild Buffalo mozzarella. The roasted eggplant pizza was our hands-down favorite, loaded up with veggies, and buried under a layer of tangy goat cheese--a thing of beauty. The soft, thick crust was able to stand up to the abundant toppings, rendering this as more of a Chicago-style, he-man pizza experience than thin, polite pizzeta.
Three cheers, another glass of Merlot, and all ten inches disappeared. We would have to come back to take the tiramisu for a spin, a rummy, better-than-average version as we recalled from an earlier visit.
The friendly, neighborhood feel of Pasta Mia''s is underscored by Bonnie Leonard''s hands-on, familiar presence, and it''s likely that the usual dining experience will include a story or two, infused with her shop-talk stories and never-meets-a-stranger personality. All of this makes for a very pleasant, quaint little neighborhood, Butterfly Town dining experience.
Pasta Mia Trattoria & Pizza Grotto
481 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove
Open daily 4:30-9:30pm