Pasta Flyer, a new fast food restaurant from former Del Posto chef Mark Ladner, opened earlier this month in Greenwich Village at 510 Sixth Avenue, between West 13th and West 14th streets, after months of delay. Eater’s critics Robert Sietsema and Ryan Sutton both visited twice — here are their initial thoughts.
Robert Sietsema thinks Pasta Flyer is a deal
Located on the northern border of Greenwich Village, Pasta Flyer seems positioned to appeal to subway riders departing the IND and PATH trains a few feet away. The decorative motif is now nominally UFO, though the place also gets terrestrial with a massive black-and-white mural of Rome and a barrier of dried wheat, perhaps calculated to scare carbophobes away.
Up a concrete stairway, the place floats above the street; the dining room is done in salmon pink with a luxurious Jacobean brocade banquette, furnishing excellent views of the traffic heading uptown on Sixth Avenue. The decorative opulence seems contrary to the fast food ethos. On my two visits, Ladner stood resolutely behind the counter stirring the sauces and checking to see that each pasta was perfectly cooked.
Only five pasta and sauce combos are offered, one gluten-free, plus a handful of snacks and small composed salads. The pastas are in the $7 to $8 range, but a nifty special allows you to get a pasta, salad, and generous-sized beverage (such as a half-liter bottle of San Pellegrino) for $9.99. You can mix and match the sauces, but I’d advise against it. Yes, the pastas are plain-ish, but the selection is masterful: I tried them all.
Corkscrew-shaped fusilli comes with a pesto high on greenery and low on pine nuts; tubular rigatoni made from whole grain swims in a carrot-speckled meat ragu — delicious, but not quite a Bolognese. Fettucine Alfredo is creamier than most, while gluten-free penne comes in the simplest of marinaras. Striking an Italian-American note, spaghetti with meatballs has plenty of marble-size meatballs, but the sauce proves a bit pallid for this purpose.
The snacks are more adventuresome. The $2 “garlic dots” are splendid, like savory zeppole, only creamier. Most masterful is the deep fried lasagna ($4), a miracle of food science. The composed salads are great too, the best of which is a bowl of fried cauliflower sent spinning in a Sicilian direction with raisins and capers. The mini-eggplant parmesan is not exactly what you’d expect, but tasty, and so is a spicy broccoli rabe that depends on caramelized onions and fresh ricotta. The small tossed salad is rather blah, though, and needs a more assertive dressing.
Is the concept scalable? As a friend quipped: Why would you want to eat pasta out when it’s so easy to make at home? Another asked: Will the pasta be as perfectly cooked when the chef is no longer standing behind the counter? Only time can answer these questions. But for the moment, the $9.99 price for an entire meal is a prodigious deal, and the pastas are satisfying, if not awe-inspiring. You almost want to pay a dollar or two more for an extra ingredient.
Here’s a hack: Ask for toasted bread crumbs to be put on any pasta; it adds extra oomph. — Robert Sietsema
Ryan Sutton wants more from Mark Ladner here
Good noodles can be a religious experience, though perhaps the power of persuasion was a little too brusque at Pasta Flyer on a recent evening. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” an 18th century Christmas song rejoicing the birth of Christ, was echoing through Mark Ladner’s counter service spot as I sampled his fusilli pesto. It is early November. Even by Best Buy radio network standards, this is early for holiday tunes.
Ladner personally prepared this fusilli in front of me, which was kind of exciting because he used to cook in front of guests at Del Posto as part of a chef’s menu that ran $500 bucks a pop. Here, at his fast food concept space, he was tossing noodles with basil pesto for $7. The website promises pasta in three minutes. Ladner served mine in under two.
The fusilli were good. So was the pesto. The noodles were shiny, seasoned, and dente. And the sauce had basic notes of basil, cheese, and pine nuts. It’s the type of thing I wouldn’t mind eating if I wanted to get some food in my stomach before an alcohol-only first date. But it’s disappointing to see one city’s best and most creative Italian chefs produce exceedingly boring pasta.
A culinary revolution erupted in 2004 when chefs like April Bloomfield started serving Michelin star-worthy fare in stripped down, downtown settings, for a few dollars less. It seemed for a while that fast casual would be the logical extension of this movement, with insanely delicious and cutting-edge takeout spots like Fuku acting as the gateway drug to more expensive full-service brands like Momofuku Ssäm Bar.
Pasta Flyer, by contrast, seems to suffer from some of the same problems as Martina, chef Nick Anderer’s insufficiently exciting pizzeria in the East Village. That’s to say: It scales down too much of the culinary experimentation or compelling product along with the prices.
That’s not to say people are going to flock into Pasta Flyer expecting Ladner’s famous spaghetti with crab and jalapenos or his whole wheat tonnarelli with bonito flakes. But it would be fun if Ladner gave us a few pastas with a touch of innovation, or if he found a way to elevate a few noodle classics just like how Shake Shack managed to elevate the fast food burger into a viral sensation.
Instead, he’s given us spaghetti with a tomato sauce that packs little acidity or character, though the porky meatballs are otherworldly. He’s given us penne with meat Bolognese so neutral that I’m not quite sure I actually tasted any meat. He’s given us fettuccine Alfredo that tastes like any other fettucine Alfredo. He’s given us a very good wedding pasta station.
New Yorkers don’t want wedding pasta. New Yorkers want Mark [bleeping] Ladner pasta. And New Yorkers sure as shaving cream want the fast-casual movement to stop stealing our best chefs. — Ryan Sutton