I’d been itching to take a nice man out to a nice dinner, all proper like, since I finished my life of academia and experienced reentry into the working world.
I wanted it to be comfortable. I wanted it to be good. I wanted it to be festive.
Said nice man has a thing for italian...and is from the east coast. So there you go.
Inspired by a recent article on Pasta Bangs I decided to venture forward, nice man in tow, tackling both a new restaurant and the very unfulfilling world of Portland Italian eateries.
Now, I don’t know about other Portlander, but I’ve been a little let down by many of the Italian joints in our fair city. Excepting some particularly expensive options, the meals have mostly been the relevant equivalent of something you could make in ten minutes with a bottle and a package, at home. Sure, some have been surprisingly cheap, and it's nice to have the option of good cheap spaghetti when out, but...in general, I have been underwhelmed. And in a city in which you can get tasty indian, lebanese, thai, and sushi...for more than reasonable pricing, that just aint right.
Pasta Bangs offered further incentive to try their pasta joint before others. The owner, a former employee of a Youth Services agency, has set up a work training program that employs and trains formerly homeless youth to work in her restaurant, and potentially, for a career in the culinary arts. Having worked, directly and indirectly, with this population I was particularly inspired to check it out and throw my money down at an establishment with a bit of a heart. Such sustainable community practices are underutiized by our culture and I wanted to see how this turned out. Plus, I knew I’d feel less cheated if the food happened to disappoint.
Which it didn’t. Disappoint, I mean. In the slightest.
So a little about Pasta Bangs:
First of all, Pasta Bangs inhabits a space hip enough to feel kinda happy and swanky, but small enough and with comfy enough seating, to feel relaxed. It's slick and stylish and has good lighting: sunny in the front, dark and cozy in the back.
Second of note: they have some seriously tasty drink options. We sat at the bar, where an array of fresh berries were in display, some of which were used in the drink special of the night: berry infused mojitos. Which rocked. They were minty. They were refreshing. They were potent.
Third of all: the food. I had heard mixed reviews about the food, to be honest, and in new restaurants that is to be expected. The menu is very focused, and unsurprising given the name: roughly a dozen pasta options, a few appetizers and some seriously tasty salad options are offered. Seafood is the dominating presence with garlicky clams being a focal point.
We decided to share a large garden green salad which came tossed with a vinaigrette and some wonderful roasted vegetables on top. Olives and cherry tomatoes rounded out the very large dish. Then there was the pasta. Pasta Bangs has two sizes: small and large. Their small is more than big enough for one so I have to assume large suits family style. The pasta menu boasts some serious choices with hazelnuts, bivalves, olives and capers aplenty and pasta made fresh (though off site). I went for the putanesca, which I found salty and garlicky and not the least bit overwhelming, as putanesca, with so many pickled puckery ingredients can be. My companion had a fettucini dish with clams that he claimed was very very good.
We chatted with the owner who made our drinks and munched and slurped and a good time was had by all.
Now, I’m not a food reviewer. So, that is pretty much the extent of my reflection on the culinary experience.
But I will say this: it excited me that someone who has chosen to integrate a very natural social service (apprenticeship, which is standard in just about every other country) has also chosen to create a comfortable, tasty well priced option that is, so far, my favorite pasta dining experience in Portland. I hope they are successful: not because they are a helping force but because they are a really nice place to eat. I think it's important to provide models that integrate socially progressive tactics into potentially lucrative enterprises. And, it’s nice to remember that you can have a good business model and have a heart, you know?