Pasta e Cuore
Every once in a while we visit a restaurant that is totally worth stretching the Cheapeats budget by a couple of dollars. So it is with the outstanding artisan Italian pasta restaurant, Pasta e Cuore.
Owner Stefania Ugolini originates from the Bologna region of Italy, known for its delicious food offerings. She comes from a rich family tradition of (female) cooks, has had her own restaurant in Italy and has also worked with top chefs in the United States. She has now put down roots in Mt Eden Village, where she and her team of chefs create arguably the best fresh pasta dishes in Auckland. (You may recognise Stefania in the dramatic cover photo on the current Italian issue of Cuisine magazine. Stefania also shares her pasta secrets in occasional pasta making classes at the restaurant – check their Facebook page for more information.)
The kitchen is the star of the restaurant and takes up the front window space. You can watch while the chefs make the fresh pasta, sauces and side dishes. You can take ingredients away to heat up at home, but I suspect that like us most people enjoy eating in, to enjoy the friendly service and a glass or two of Italian wine.
The seating is limited at Pasta e Cuore, so phone ahead to book a seat/table. There a few seats on the main floor, but there is more in the room upstairs and the back garden area is being made more comfortable for winter dining.
Once seated, take time to peruse the menu, which describes the food in detail. You will learn that there is no authentic Italian dish called Spaghetti Bolognaise! Stefania’s story also makes for interesting reading.
The food at Pasta e Cuore is all about quality ingredients cooked with love and care. They are so proud of their suppliers that they list them in the menu. This is a round-about way of saying that the pricing reflects the quality and authenticity of the food that you will enjoy.
There is a short selection of Antipasti to start, and also sides to have with your meal. The main course menu is divided into dishes made with the various types of pasta and gnocchi. There are also two or three chef’s specials of the day, and also a short dessert menu.
The evening we visited, two of the main specials were a pappardelle pasta with beef ragu ($29) and gnocchi baked with a puttanesca sauce covered with mozzarella. Although there are several pasta dishes at the close-to-Cheapeats price of $22, my husband succumbed to the lures of the pappardelle, while I decided on a gnocchi dish from the regular menu ($22). This dish uses chicken mince and porcini mushrooms to create a sauce for the gnocchi. There are also shreds of fresh red chilli in the sauce, which Stefania told me later was not strictly authentic, but she felt added that little extra something, and I agree.
We also ordered a side of roasted vegetables to share ($17) and decided to start with the smaller serving of bruschetta (3/$15 or 4/$20).
While we sipped on our Italian red wine, a little dish of cubes of freshly baked focaccia bread arrived, which is a nice touch.
The bruschetta were lightly toasted/grilled bread, and piled with freshly chopped tomato and garlic, drizzled with olive oil. A simple dish but delicious and a relatively light way to start our meal. The server had asked us if we were OK with garlic – a good thing as it was a significant component of the flavour. As much as I enjoyed this starter, I do think that this dish works best in the summer with sun-ripened tomatoes.
Our mains arrived a short time later, and served in those big white plates with large rims. It may look as though the serving is small, but beware! The bowl itself is quite deep, and holds a good-size serving! My gnocchi dish was divine – lots of pillows of potato gnocchi, tossed with the chicken mince and porcini sauce, and a few slices of red chili to give it a nice warmth.
I managed to sneak a taste of the beef and papardelle dish, and it was also a hearty and full-flavoured meal. The pappardelle was silken – as are all pastas here. The roast vegetables were a mix of potato, onion, carrot, pumpkin and fennel. Again a good dish for the winter but in my opinion rather expensive. Considering the hearty nature of our mains, and in an effort to stay closer to a Cheapeats budget, the green salad ($10) may have been a better choice.
The short dessert menu included a rich chocolate dish and also authentic tiramisu, but we unfortunately were too full to even consider sharing one.
I have visited Pasta e Cuore during lunch, and can attest that the spaghetti topped with Gorgonzola, walnuts and fresh rocket is a flavour combination made in heaven. Lunch time is ideal if you want to keep more closely to a Cheapeats budget – order a fresh green salad and a pasta dish to share, and then conclude with a decadent dessert and coffee. Authentic Italy on a Cheapeats budget!