It's hard eating pasta with rippled Arnold's thick Austrian accent warping "hasta la vista, baby" through your head. It's hard to focus on the pasta, the crepes, the shrimp, the scaloppine, the one wall with wine bottles imbedded haphazardly into the plaster. It's even hard to reconcile that wall with this restaurant, being that it's currently BYOB (liquor licenses seem to move through official channels at a drunken snail's pace). The only thought that clangs through your head is that Schwarzenegger gibe from Terminator 2, a taunt that's now so trite it has slithered its way into a Chef Boyardee commercial.
It's been all downhill since. Pasta la vista is not only the grab line in an ad for the Ronco Popeil Pasta Maker, it's the title of the third episode of an Irish television series called McCready & Daughter; it's the title of an article in the magazine Total Movie by a guy who spends the whole weekend watching mob flicks; and it's a song from the album Music for Misguided Angels by a band called the Red Guitars. Pasta la vista is even the name of dozens of restaurants from Nurioopta, Australia, to Winnipeg, Canada. What at first seems clever is eventually warped into a cliché.
Which is something Pasta La Vista isn't. This tiny restaurant lodged next to the former Basha (both sharing the same owner in chef Bachar Alaia) is actually two culinary vessels in one. Yet the only demarcation signaling these distinctions is the loud neon sign above. On the right, scrawled in neon tubes, is the "French Corner"; on the left is the paraphrased cliché. One plies crepes, the other tosses pasta. The distinction continues with the menu.
Pasta La Vista
214-828-8783. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8:30 p.m.-3 p.m. Saturday 5:30 p.m.-midnight Friday crepe: $8.25
Nioise crepe: $6.25
Put these two restaurants together and you get a pretty decent rendition of a comfortable restaurant none too light on personality. Spend a few minutes with the food and you get a damn good impersonation of a neighborhood restaurant, one in a city somewhat weak in neighborhood cohesiveness. Pasta La Vista is clean, fresh and cheap, and it has a fantastic wine list if you factor in the swell global selection across the street at Whole Foods Market. Perhaps the most offbeat thing about this restaurant is the alternating appearance of crepes and pasta. Yank the salmon fumé crepe from the French Corner menu, and you'll experience a smoky fish in a fluffy wrap cut with a politely tart crème sauce. Scattered over the top of the light, elastic crepe folds are capers and rings of red onion.
Pasta La Vista counters with a penne pasta toss that's worth its weight in failed Schwarzenegger flicks. Swamped in a velvety savory sauce, the coalition of pasta tubes and mushrooms is as elegant as it is simple.
The French Corner French onion soup is a no-nonsense, straightforward splash in a bowl with well-balanced, yet largely uninteresting flavors bundled together with a gooey cheese lid and a crouton.
The most attractive element of bistros is the manner in which they maneuver through the cheap and simple to reach grandiosity. Pasta La Vista does this, too. The tomato salad arrived as a simple culinary mandala with Roma tomato slices surrounding a burly pinch of well-dressed greens.
Sometimes that simplicity went awry. The green olive salad was a mess, little more than a haphazard clump of greens with a generous toss of green olives mingled with walnuts and all crowned with a shriveled red onion ring. Since olives are nearly always cured before reaching the destination, the distinguishing features of such simple composition largely rest on the touch used in presentation. Here there was none.
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But these little dips were canceled by the manifold rises. Lasagna Florentine was light, supple and satisfying and so delicate it disintegrated in the mouth without the help of molars. The spaghetti was workmanlike in execution in that the noodles didn't coagulate into a knot and the sauce didn't come off like ketchup. The sauce was zesty, the pasta perfectly boiled, separate and easy to suck off your chin.
French and Italian leanings were sort of crossbred in the fruit de mer crepe. Chewy mussels and sweet scallops share space with tough shrimp in a fluffy light crepe smothered in a smooth sauce.
Pasta La Vista also makes nice work out of spuds. Gnocchi beef in a mushroom demi-glace is pocked with little gnocchi buttons void of the fuzzy gumminess that sometimes creeps into dishes featuring this potato dumpling. Well-seared nuggets of juicy beef blushed rose when sliced.
Dessert also held up. A simple composition of crepe, berries, a searing raspberry compote and a ball of vanilla ice cream capped the experience much better than a cloying cliché spit from an aging knot of a muscle-bound action flick star with a stogie clamped in his mug. It tasted better, too.