Since 2005, Gerard Craft has been delighting St. Louis with his fine-dining restaurant Niche, which, like many fine dining restaurants these days, is known for its use of local, seasonal ingredients. Since then he opened the more casual Brasserie by Niche as well as Taste, which focuses on small plates and cocktails.
Craft also has won such accolades as being named a Food & Wine Best Newin 2008 and being nominated four times by the James Beard Foundation for the Best Chef in the Midwest award.
Now he has turned his attention to noodles, and in August plans to open Pastaria, where he will combine what he has learned from multiple trips to Italy — most recently with the specific mission of learning more about pasta — with the Midwestern bounty that he highlights at his other restaurant.
Heading up the kitchen will be Adam Altnether, who has worked with Craft since 2007 and who bought Taste from him in 2010, although Craft is still a partner in that restaurant.
The new venue will be a retail shop — offering pasta, local cheese, sauces, take-home meals and imported olive oils and vinegars — as well as a 112-seat restaurant with a 12-seat bar and 40-seat private dining room.
Pasta will be extruded and rolled in a front display window, showing how items such as ravioli, wide pappardelle noodles, and spaghetti alla chitara (“guitar spaghetti”) — so-named because the pasta is cut by pressing it through a row of wires that resembles a guitar — are made.
Craft said he expects the pasta display window to attract people’s attention. “The idea is to showcase great pasta dishes in a really friendly, unpretentious and affordable setting that tells about the traditions of Italy with the ingredients of the Midwest,” he noted.
“The first time I went to Umbria [a region in central Italy] it stood out how much like the Midwest it is — the landscape, the weather and a lot of the ingredients,” he said. Both Umbria and the Midwest specialize in beef and wheat, for example.
For an Umbrian dish called carne cruda (“raw meat”), Craft will be getting his beef from with Bethlehem Valley Winery in Missouri, which raises cattle on the side of the valley where it doesn’t grow grapes. The dish is made by dressing raw chopped beef with a little olive oil and salt, and served with preserved lemon and arugula for $10.95.
Rather than using 00 semolina flour from Italy Craft will be sourcing his flour from Kansas and Missouri. He will import the olive oil, however, from Tuscany and Abruzzo, and the balsamic vinegar from Emilia Romagna.
Craft said one thing he learned during his latest pasta-investigation trip was to keep it simple. “As chefs, when we come up with recipes we want to overcomplicate certain things, maybe because we have a huge toolbox," he explained. "But we don’t always have to use it."
Instead, Craft plans to make dishes like the tortelloni he had in Orvietto, which was made simply with seasoned ricotta, artichokes, olive oil and lemon juice. Craft is serving his rendition with parsley and Parmesan cheese for $15.95.
Other menu highlights include oven roasted beef meatballs with dates, tomato, polenta and Parmesan for $13.95, and wood oven–roastedwith seasonal bread salad for $17.95.