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Pete Wells Gives One Glowing Star to Fast-Food Restaurant Pasta Flyer

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Mark Ladner’s Pasta Flyer and Danny Meyer’s Martina both earned one star from the NYT critic

In a double-header this week, Pete Wells takes on Mark Ladner’s Pasta Flyer and Nick Anderer’s Martina. The NYT critic says that although the food at these chef-run Italian fast-food spots isn’t quite the same as it was at their finer dining initiatives , they’re still worthwhile in an increasingly expensive market.

“There’s precedent,” Wells claims, “for devoting specialized attention to the problems of everyday living among architects and industrial designers, who may toggle between showpiece commissions and small, affordable houses,” and it’s with this in mind that he reviews the restaurants.

Previously, Ladner ran the kitchen at Del Posto, where he brought the restaurant to four stars. (Del Posto is part of a restaurant group which as of late has come under scrutiny due to sexual misconduct charges.) A year ago, he left the restaurant to strike out on his own with Pasta Flyer, which serves up counter-service fare — choose a pasta, choose a sauce, choose your own table — in a space topped off with a giant satellite dish that makes “Mr. Ladner’s fixation on flying saucers” clear.

The standout dish is the garlic knots. About the rest of the food, Wells says:

The texture is the first thing most cheap pasta places screw up. Pasta Flyer doesn’t screw it up. The noodles are firm and chewy, with a happy little bounce. Partly this is because they’re not overcooked, but Mr. Ladner is also buying excellent dry pasta from Italy. It’s similar to the imported stuff I like to buy when I cook at home, which costs almost as much by the pound as a bowl does at Pasta Flyer. The rigatoni is made with whole grain and the penne is gluten free; they’re both as supple and smooth as the three shapes made from semolina.

[...] Mr. Ladner, though, is using his skill, knowledge and connections not to make special-occasion fireworks but to make ordinary food that many people can afford. Pasta Flyer isn’t spectacular, but it’s still a major achievement. I’ve eaten a lot of supposedly cheap pasta, and it’s never as good as what Mr. Ladner is serving.

Across town in the East Village, Martina — “the less expensive younger sibling” to Anderer and Danny Meyer’s Flatiron restaurant Marta — has a scaled down menu from the original location but plenty of successes, starting with the fagioli al fiasco and arancini and ending with the soft serve. In between, there’s pizza:

The pizza is in the style of Roman neighborhood joints. The crusts are flat, extremely thin, pale and crisp, but not crunchy. They’re softer than the ones at Marta, which snap like crackers. The crust is merely a vehicle; what interest these pies hold is entirely in their toppings. Covered with mushrooms, say, or pork sausage with broccoli rabe, or grated cheese and shaved brussels sprouts, they can be very good. But the simple margherita is a bore.

Critics, including Wells (0 stars for both Locol and Made Nice) and Eater’s own Ryan Sutton, have raised a skeptical eyebrow at chefs striking out into the world of fast-casual restaurants. But it’s hard to argue with Wells’s point that not everything has to be The Perfect First-Date Restaurant, and that making “ordinary food that many people can afford” in a city as expensive as New York is in and of itself worth a certain kind of recognition.

Pasta Flyer

510 6th Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10011 Visit Website

Martina

198 East 11th Street, Manhattan, NY 10003 (646) 747-6635 Visit Website

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