Paisano’s Pasta and Regional Italian Cuisine
Housemade pasta, presto lunch
I have a personal list of terrible food ideas. No. 3 is mixing orange and vanilla. I adore the sharp, citrus bite of orange as much as its sunny, sweet, pick-me-up flavor. I also love the warm, almost sensual scent and taste of vanilla (even though the vanilla perfume craze of the late ’90s almost killed it for me). But to mix the two seems not only unnecessary, but also a gross disrespect to the very different auras, like blending spring and autumn. If this isn’t dramatic enough for you, the taste of a Creamsicle, for me, is like licking asphalt and then licking the undercarriage of my car. Thanks, but I’ll pass.
On that happy note, I was in my car cruising up and down Eubank, running out of good lunchtime ideas and getting hungrier by the minute. That’s when I remembered Paisano’s, a locally owned Sicilian-Italian joint that’s been around for 35 years. If it’s escaped attention thus far, it’s only because of its longevity. But my Grammy used to say that if you ignore it then it’ll go away, so a revisit to an oldie but goodie was definitely in order.
Paisano’s is so unassuming that walking into the dining room is truly akin to entering a familiar dwelling, complete with the smell of roasting meat, cheese and tomatoes. The décor is all homestyle with cozy, unpretentious furniture and handpainted walls. The predominant colors in the place are green, gold, melon and plum, and I noted that the paper lunch napkins matched the cloth dinner napkins in a deep plum. The tables are neat as a pin, and each boasts a large glass bottle of olive oil.
I was waited on hand and foot by owner Rick Camuglia, who was polite, well-versed in Italian foodspeak and was what my Grammy would call “polished.” I had a wonderful table near the entrance, with a view of the cool, enclosed patio area and the rest of the gleaming dining room. He brought me a tall wire basket filled with soft, purple-swirled olive bread and a mini loaf of buttery, dense white bread, and a shallow dish that he filled with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and herbs.
After a thorough survey of the lunch menu and the chalkboard specials display, I chose a goat cheese fondue ($10.95) with grilled vegetables and shrimp for an appetizer, spaghetti with a house salad ($6.75) for my entrée and a lemon pudding cake with raspberry sauce ($5.25) for dessert.
The actual food portion of my visit was scoring well from the start because my Italian soda was cream-less, just the way I like it. “We don’t put it in there unless you want it,” said Rick. The appetizer was absolutely fantastic, with a large plate filled with spring greens, grilled zucchini spears, carrot sticks and tomato wedges, and two skewers of hefty, grilled shrimp marinated in garlic and herbs. It was accompanied by a bowl filled with warm, creamy melted goat cheese, onion, garlic and roasted tomatoes. I was spreading the stuff on everything, and discovered it went perfectly with the white bread in my basket.
Without the addition of baked goods, this appetizer is a low-carb dream of a dish, which brings me to my second terrible food idea: low- and no-carb diets. Who in their right mind would want to abstain from some of life’s most delicious treats, like pasta, bread, cakes, pies and cheese Danishes? If I had to contemplate a life without coffee cake, I would inject myself with Liquid Plumber and sit on a burning couch.
My salad was delivered on a chilled plate (is anyone else still taking the time to do this?) and consisted of various lettuces, red cabbage, julienne carrots, red pepper slices, broccoli florets, ruffles cucumbers and a blue cheese dressing Rick informed me was made by hand.
The housemade pasta is reputed to be the hallmark of the restaurant, and the very idea that my spaghetti lunch began “as a ball of dough until you order it” was intriguing to say the least. The house pasta is made with semolina flour and fresh eggs, and is rolled, cut and cooked to order. For a mere 95 cents extra, you can order spinach or tomato pasta. Gluten-free is an option for a large portion of the menu, and lunch here is “presto,” with orders taking 15 minutes or less or they’re free.
After eating the premade stuff at so many Italian restaurants, I had all but forgotten how delicious fresh pasta really is. The spaghetti was tender and had a distinctive flavor independent of the sauce. It was toothsome and not as absorbent as the dried stuff, so the fire-orange marinara with chopped basil enrobed the strands rather than melding with them.
My No. 1 terrible food idea ever? David Burke’s Flavor Sprays, but only the birthday cake variety. My reasoning: I can see spraying butter- or bacon-flavored zero-calorie vapor on vegetables, rice or potatoes, but what in accordion-lashing hell do you spray birthday cake on? I’ll stick with real dessert, thank you very much.
As it turns out, my lemon cake was super-moist and drenched with homemade lemon custard that was too eggy. Next time I think I’ll try one the six or seven other desserts they offer. In the end, my lunch tab came out to $27.46 before tip. That may seem like a big check for one person, but after the way I gorged myself I was thankful didn’t have to torture my Visa, and that’s always a good idea.