Pasta Mia Ancora! returns in all its glory—and with some new ideas.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
With all due respect to F. Scott Fitzgerald, that business about there being no second acts in American lives is a bunch of hogwash. Just look at Maureen Signorella, who sold Pasta Mia six years ago and reopened it last month with a charming new look (provincial Italian) and a bold new idea (wine bar). Judging from the dinner I had there last week, Pasta Mia Ancora!—the last word means “again”—isn’t just a second act, it’s a tour de force with bravos in order.
The newly remodeled place is gorgeous. Maybe it was the endless rain and unseasonable chill that made the converted house on Lighthouse Avenue in PG so inviting. From the moment Susana and I stepped in the door I felt cradled in warmth and comfort. People were friendly. Candles flickered in the fireplace. Warm golden walls were accented with pale turquoise and a tasteful hand-drawn spiral motif. The Best Seat in the House here is a table in a little glassed-in alcove, but it was taken and we were perfectly happy near the fireplace.
Warm soft focaccia and olive oil with a roasted garlic clove to dredge it in arrived swiftly, as did our own bottle of water. From a decent list of reasonably priced Californian and Italian wines Susana ordered a glass of Ruffino Chianti ($7.50) while I went for the Lamberti Pinot Grigio ($7).
I’ve grown peevish about kitchens that try to make a statement with every dish. This menu, based on northern and southern Italian cuisine, offers what is for me the ideal balance between faithful standards and inventive originals. For appetizers there was goat cheese crostini and prosciutto and balsamic apple crostini. There was beef carpaccio and bresaola, its dry-cured cousin. For entrées there was ravioli with meat sauce and the signature lasagna with its delicate white béchamel, housemade ricotta and sweet tomato sauce (served with the option of wild boar or venison meat sauce when available). There were also some nice thin-crust pizzas and heavier entrees like osso bucco and rib-eye steak.
Susana, a vegetarian, expressed delight over the choices available to her and decided to start with the rolled eggplant appetizer ($7.50). It hit the mark as a modestly portioned variation on eggplant parmesan, with a creamy filling of fontina and house-made mozzarella set off by lightly breaded eggplant, a spicy tomato sauce and fresh basil.
Fascinated by the bresaola ($8.25), I signed up. It was far too much food for a single appetizer. A half dozen large, thickish discs of mildly flavored dried beef covered the plate. The too-demure combination of white truffle oil, asiago, celery and arugula was unable to rescue the dish. It wasn’t bad, but it was the lone middling dish of the evening.
Dinner made up for it. My fusilli luganega ($14.50), a generous portion of corkscrew pasta in red sauce, was heavenly. As I greedily speared a few more twisters with my fork, I decided homemade pasta really does have a superior texture. I noted with approval that the thin, well-seasoned slices of housemade sausage had the zing of fennel and that the chunks of chicken were surprisingly tender. The velvety sauce, flecked with fresh herbs, had a satisfying touch of creaminess.
Susana struck gold with her fresh porcini and chanterelle ravioli ($21), a special that has proven so popular Signorella is considering putting it on the menu. Great idea. Large, flat pillows of tender, paper-thin pasta encase a porcini purée and are topped with a simple, sublime mix of chanterelles, garlic and butter. Superb ingredients and the good sense to get out of their way usually trump all.
Afterward, on our youthful waiter’s recommendation, I ordered the tiramisu ($6.50). We got a huge corner piece laden with cocoa powder and adorned with a luscious pool of fresh whipped cream.
I probably won’t have it the next time I go back, though,
because I will no doubt be bellying up to the downstairs wine
bar. Vino Vino isn’t open yet, but Signorella has big plans
for the cozy ground-level space with its generous window.
She’ll be doing panini and small bites, plates with tastes of
two or three appetizers. It will be a place where you can get
enough food to fuel a night of dedicated wine tasting or just
whet your appetite for dinner upstairs. There’ll be wines on
offer from Italy, Spain, Australia, South Africa and of course
our very own neighborhood, with tasting flights and guest
vintners each Wednesday. The place opens April 20 with guest
Roger Nicols of RN Estate pouring Cabernet Sauvignon and
Mourvedre from Paso Robles. It’s an idea a long time coming
and well worth looking into.
PASTA MIA ANCORA! • 481 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove • 375-7709 • Tue-Sat 5-9:30pm