His restaurant was destroyed by fire. But now life is a beach.

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Why the name Pasta Beach?

We laugh as a family. When my mom first came to Italy – she’s from Rhode Island – she fell in love with pasta. She orders spaghetti pomodoro every time she returns to Italy. What everyone thinks of Italian food is what comes to mind: always pasta. Between the love of Italian food that we all have, pasta is always involved. The “beach” part is what we want people to feel at the restaurant. When you dine with us, imagine yourself sitting on the rocks, drinking an Aperol Spritz and watching the sunset. You forget all your problems, you forget your problems, you enjoy the moment. Life is a beach. When you dine out, you need to be in the moment. I don’t know how else to describe it. Life can be stressful, but you need to realize that with your friends and family, be in the moment. Put your phone away. Look at the people in front of you.

Your father is an oral surgeon in Italy. How does he also run a restaurant here?

My dad is always on the next project. He never stands still. [He] always wanted to open a restaurant. Since he met my mother, he had this idea. My parents don’t cook; we would receive friends and my father would call my grandmother in Italy and ask her for recipes. Everyone loved the food he made, and most of the time it was the first time he made it. He wanted to bring Italian chefs from Italy, bring them here on special visas and cook dishes that we grew up in Italy. We loved hosting.

What did you grow up eating?

Spaghetti bowl. It’s one of the simplest dishes to make, but when done correctly, it’s amazing.

In Boston, we make a classic vongole but with a bottarga on it; it adds an umami fish flavor. It’s a fish egg that people use in Italy. On a fish paste, we do not put parmesan; the bottarga gives it this salty taste. It is the parmesan of fish dishes.

What are the biggest differences, in terms of food, between Italy and here?

The raw product. You get all of these products in Italy that are of the highest quality, and that’s the biggest difference. At a young age, they didn’t have kids’ menus. You experience food. You order from the regular menu. I was ordering langoustines off the menu when I was 6 years old. My parents laugh: My parents and their friends were at a table; me and my brother were at another table. I was six or seven years old. My parents came and we ordered langoustines and raw fish. They laugh at that. There was no penne with butter!

How did Pasta Beach start?

The first restaurant was the Newport site in 2002; I watched from afar. It was hard at first. The Newport location was very seasonal. It was not open 12 months a year. My mother came back to the United States about every month; lots of back and forth. They were still in flight. At one point I moved here with my mom and brother for two years and then came back. We were mostly here. My dad went back and forth every 20 days, stayed five days, then went home. It was a big commitment. Everyone laughs: Why did you have to do that?

In October one year, my dad was coming back from Maine with some friends, and all of a sudden he was laughing. You know when the freeway was above ground in Boston? He would look at Rowes Wharf. He thought the buildings were so beautiful. One day, he was driving back and he saw that a building was for rent. He called my mom in Italy and said, “Hey, I just found a new restaurant.” My mother said, “No way. You are crazy. We still live in Italy. I was 10 years old. Of course, my dad convinced her, and then we opened Boston in 2010.

What were your teenage years like?

I lived in Turin until my second year of high school. I ended up coming back to the United States and finished high school and then went to college in the United States. I have been to Wheeler at Providence and Cornell for their hospitality program.

Is a host program really worth it?

One thing I love about Cornell is that it’s a hospitality school, but they teach you everything. You take law courses, you take economics courses, you take real estate courses, you take hospitality courses. There is a restaurant on campus; you work in the kitchen, you work in the dining room, you run the whole restaurant for one night. You get that hospitality experience – it’s not just about the people. There’s a big business behind this, and you have to learn all aspects of the business, I believe, to be successful in running one. You have to combine all these different aspects, lots of moving parts.

Why did Pasta Beach close in 2019?

We had a big fire in 2019, in September. It was interesting. My father and my older brother were absent; my mother and I were here. I was in Newport and got a call from a manager: “I think we have a small fire; I can see smoke coming out of the hood system. We had an umbrella on the patio; he could see the umbrella with ashes on it. He said it wasn’t a big deal. Firefighters were on the way.

Then he called me back, “Eldredge – they didn’t put out the fire.” It was at 3 p.m. Fortunately, many customers were not in the restaurant; they had closed all of Atlantic Avenue. We were still sitting in the office, and then my mom said, “Let’s go home and turn on the TV.” We saw the cover happen. We arrived early in the morning. We entered: the water was everywhere. We knew this was going to have to be a whole new project.

Why continue, especially in light of COVID?

I love the Boston location. I started bussing in Newport, but my first management position was in Boston. I liked the building, I loved the regulars. I had a personal connection. I looked at my mom and said, “We’re doing it again.” She said it was up to my brother and me.

What’s different now?

We wanted to give it an elegant but relaxed look. I describe it as a restaurant where you walk in and you can be in a suit and black tie, or you can be very casual. You sit down, the service is amazing, the food is everyday cuisine and you can see that research has been done.

Over the past 20 years, food in Boston, but in the United States as a whole, has completely changed. The customer has a better understanding of food and there is a lot more international food in Boston. Before, it was casual everyday cooking that worked. I still like it. That’s what we do in Newport. In Boston, we wanted to do something different. Like the carbonara: Our executive chef, he’s from Rome. Andrea Congiusta. He came here for the project a few months ago. We make the real carbonara in the sense that it’s guanciale, pecorino and egg. Lots of people like it; some think it’s too salty. The pecorino itself is very salty. We don’t put parmesan in it, which would help tone down that salty taste. And guanciale is saltier than pancetta and bacon, which many restaurants use. We try to go back to the roots of Italy.

Describe Boston’s foodie community in a few words.

Overall I think as a city it has become more food literate and people are looking for more experience. People want to see something different, something new and exciting.

What is your bestseller?

We sell a lot of pasta. We are Pasta Beach! One of the biggest sellers might be ragù Romano. It’s our bolognese, not the classic stew with ground beef and all that. It’s made with oxtail. This is where we want to differentiate ourselves: classic cuisine, and make it a little different.

Where do you eat when you’re not working?

In the Boston area, I loved Gourmet Dumpling House and Gourmet China House. I’ve always loved dumplings. I always get the soup dumplings.

Food you can’t stand?

No. I’ve always loved trying new foods. I always laugh: When I go to a restaurant, I order too much. I try everything.

As someone who works in a family restaurant, have you seen “The Bear”?

This is the next show on my list. Family businesses are interesting; there is a lot of dynamics. Like any business, you have to separate family and business. It is important to know how to separate business and family. You see each other all the time. I talk about work at all hours of the day with my father. I drink my coffee and talk about work. You need to dissociate. I think at some point you all have to agree: we’re not going to talk about work today. Let’s not talk about work at all. You need to be aware of just moving on.

Favorite meeting place in Newport?

The Clarke Cooke House. In the summer they have sushi. I sit at the bar and order sushi.

Must-have cocktail?

Right now, a dirty martini.

Gin or vodka?

Vodka. Otherwise, at some point, I drank a lot of vespers. It might be one of my favorite cocktails.

Favorite TV show?

“Schitt’s Cove.”


Kara Baskin can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.

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