Oh, how I appreciate tinkering Tacoma chefs, especially those who make in-house what easily could be outsourced.
At Primo Grill, Charlie McManus hand stretches mozzarella, grinds sausage, and wife/co-owner Jacqueline Plattner steeps cherries for house-made liqueur. Owner Gordon Naccarato and Chef Alex Anton at Smoke + Cedar stretch mozzarella, make fresh ricotta and cure their own bacon.
Derek Bray, of the newly opened The Table, is curing his own salmon, and blending house-concocted sodas with herbs and summer berries. Both Bray and Blake Lord-Wittig from Steilacoom’s De La Terre are also embarking on grind-your-own adventures this summer with house-made lamb sausage.
This summer, I’ve been eating my way through one tinkering trend around Tacoma: House-made pastas at restaurants from Parkland to Proctor.
I’ve tried the gamut, from chewy extruded rigatoni to silky hand-cut pappardelle; from lamb-filled ravioli to hand-shaped cavatelli.
Marrow’s experimentation surprised me most. Unexpected because the Sixth Avenue restaurant isn’t an Italian restaurant or previously known for its pastas. Unexpected because of the depth to which its chefs are studying pasta.
Pasta at Marrow could fit under both the pasta or noodle (made with eggs) categories. In fact, the restaurant recently made its own ramen for a daily special.
Explained Marrow co-owner Matthew Schweitzer, “Pasta is something that has a very low cost as an entry point, so a lot of people are going to try it. But to develop a great pasta program, you have to study it, work it and practice at it. You have to make it with your hands, put it through a roller, get to know the dough.”
Less than a year ago, a sole vegan lasagna cycled through Marrow’s fall menu, but now there are four house-made pastas, with more served as specials and on Wednesday-night tasting menus.
Schweitzer produces 15 doughs a week.
There’s maccheroni de busa, hand-rolled durum wheat pasta that looks like bucatini, and garganelli, an egg pasta made by rolling pasta down a ridged board, creating a tube.
He’s also shaping cavatelli using a cavarola board. He’s purchased a corzetti stamp, gnocchi board, brass pasta cutters and extruder dies. He calls his mattarello “the coolest piece of equipment we have.” As he described, “It’s a large rolling pin controlled by your fingers that we use to roll, stretch and flatten dough. We use this for many of our pastas made by hand.”
His doughs contain differing ratios and configurations of durum, semolina, double “OO” flour and eggs. He’s created vegan counterparts to the egg-based pastas, something expected for the restaurant with a menu split for meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans.
At The Table, next door to Marrow, Derek Bray’s opening menu listed a silky pappardelle. “Making pasta, it’s a combination that defines me well. It’s really old-school traditional cooking with new-school ingenuity,” he said. Bray takes old techniques and finishes dishes with modern formulas. His carbonara comes with a breakfast twist; his sausage pappardelle a new take on marsala.
Schweitzer also advocates classic techniques married with modern presentation; much like what’s happening nationwide with ramen’s makeover, he noted.
For a more traditional take on pasta, travel across town to Parkland. Diners will find a menu peppered with house-made pastas, which are overseen by Elisa Marzano, chef-owner of Marzano Italian Restaurant. She’s taught a number of apprentices to make pasta from scratch.
One such apprentice, Ben Herreid, started his own fresh pasta restaurant in Puyallup, where he combines Marzano’s techniques with unexpected fillings and flavors for his house-made raviolis.
Take a tour of these seven restaurants with pasta made in-house.
2717 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-267-5299, marrowtacoma.com.
The pastas bend as far as Schweitzer’s imagination can stretch them. As he puts it, “We do super, super classical heritage Italian pastas. And we do nouveau modernized pasta, whether it’s the noodle or the component or the dough. We make bucatini and clams, the classic Italian Piedmont dish. We’ll also do radiatori made with cabbage and the spices of pastrami. We basically took the flavors of a reuben sandwich and put it into a pasta dish.”
Try: Gently resistant cabbage radiatori ($19) pasta with a cream-thickened mustard sauce spiked with crispy-skinned duck confit, whole mustard seeds and slow-simmered collard greens. Slightly less done than al dente cavatelli ($17) turned vivid green from rapini pesto, licked with smoke from calabrian chili and paprika.
Tip: Beginning in mid-August, buy house-made pasta at Marrow in servings to feed two, four or six (or more if advance ordered).
109 W. Pioneer Ave., Puyallup; 253-604-4288, facebook.com/aristarestaurant.
Serious, interesting and a bit fun is how I would describe the 10-item ravioli menu at Arista, which opened in October in downtown Puyallup. Chef-owner Herreid hand-fills ravioli with a far-flung range of fusion flavors: from Moroccan to Hawaiian to Korean and more straightforward Mediterranean. Then there’s one that sounds like a food dare: General Tso’s chicken. The menu lists extruded pastas, too.
Try: Crispy fried ravioli ($20), with a panko jacket, filled with Moroccan-spiced ground lamb, with cool reinforcement from lemon yogurt. House spaghetti ($17) provided a pleasing tug of chewy resistance, the long noodles soaked up slow-cooked brisket bolognese, made with smoky pancetta and Italian sausage. I wanted to like lobster ravioli ($24) more than I did, and would have if the corn zabaglione sauce had not separated.
Note: A new menu starts soon, so what is listed here might no longer be offered. Also, pasta is available for purchase at the restaurant.
MARZANO ITALIAN RESTAURANT
516 Garfield St., Tacoma; 253-537-4191, dinemarzano.com.
For 27 years, Elisa Marzano has operated her Northwest-spun Italian eatery just a few blocks from Pacific Lutheran University. The restaurant’s specialty is bronze-die pastas using doughs made from semolina and durum flours. Find a frequently changing menu that ebbs and flows with the season’s freshest ingredients. Be sure to call ahead for reservations, even on weeknights.
Try: Boscaiola ($19), a creamy tomato bolognese that alternated bites of beef and chunky-cut mushrooms, with hearty rigatoni forming the base of the dish. Piccata ($22) combined poached chicken breast dressed with an assertive tangle of artichoke, capers and lemon, a hefty pile of chitarra, a thick spaghetti-like pasta that I wrapped — and wrapped and wrapped — around my fork. Any of the restaurant’s raviolis are a must order, no matter the configuration.
2715 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-327-1862, thetabletacoma.com.
Bray’s opening menu of new restaurant The Table included a few versions of fresh, hand-cut pasta. It’s something he’ll continue to develop. What’s resonating with diners is his sausage pappardelle. “My favorite comment I got was, it kind of look likes Hamburger Helper, but this is the most delicious thing I’ve ever had,” said Bray.
As he described it, the dish is a nod to traditional marsala, but with sausage for the chicken.
Try: Sausage pappardelle ($19), a silky tangle of pasta, which Bray said gets its velvety-yet-sturdy texture from a combination of semolina and the flour that Italian chefs covet, finely ground double “OO” flour. Ground sausage dotted the dish, with broadly-sliced mushrooms barely kissed by a saute pan, and creamy marsala sauce that clung to each ribbon.
2701 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-383-7000, primogrilltacoma.com.
This summer, McManus has been experimenting with house-made sausage — and bratwurst for his next-door sibling business, Crown Bar. Wife and co-owner Plattner has been creating her own schnapps, house-cured cherries and long-steeped berry liqueurs for the restaurant’s burgeoning cocktail program.
Pasta is the latest project. McManus explained one method for a current menu favorite, saffron tagliatelle. “We take a pinch of saffron and hydrate in the water. The key is to not have to hydrate the saffron too much. That little bit of saffron is what gives the pasta that wonderful yellow color.”
Try: Long ribbons of al dente fettuccini ($17) in a clingy cream sauce threaded with waxy bits of lemon zest and still-crisp wisps of asparagus; a smoky thump of flavor from vibrantly orange salmon. Saffron tagliatelle ($19) was summery in taste and color, with saffron threads offering the occasional wash of orange-yellow, in a brothy sauce thick with three kinds of mushrooms: shiitake, maitake and oyster (sourced from local company Adam’s Mushrooms).
DE LA TERRE
1606 Lafayette St., Steilacoom; 253-584-0258, facebook.com/restaurantdelaterre.
You never know what’s cooking at De La Terre because chef-owner Lord-Wittig has changed the menu more times in the first month than most Tacoma restaurants do all year. Go there knowing that fresh pasta might — or might not — be offered.
Try: Duck confit tagliatelle ($16) on the menu in late June tasted like a summer stroganoff. Rich noodles wore a jacket of garlicky cream sauce, with meaty bits of duck confit.
2515 N. Proctor, Tacoma; 253-761-5660, europabistro.net.
Like Elisa Marzano, chef-owner Alfredo Russo of Proctor’s Europa Bistro has a menu full of house-made pastas — from spaghetti, to fettuccini, fusilli and ravioli. The serving staff announce with pride that every pasta listed is made right there at the restaurant.
Try: Portobello ravioli ($15.95), if it’s on the menu as a special. Or, for that matter, order any of the house-made raviolis. Thick, slightly chewy ravioli filled with earthy portobello tasted almost beefy. A reduced brown butter sauce and layers of roasted vegetables finished the dish.
Tip: With notice, house-made pasta is available for purchase.