Monday, January 28, 2013

Pasta Mia

Pasta Mia in Adams Morgan was one of those places that had been on our list for a long time but we kept putting it off because it seemed too difficult to deal with.  It doesn't take reservations and is notorious for slow turnover leading to long lines of hungry people.

Pasta Mia is also one of those "rules" places.  What do I mean?  Check out the photo below:

While I totally respect an establishment's right to set out its own rules, it definitely is a bit of a turn off when there are so many restaurants in town that are just easier to deal with.  However, my love of pasta is so strong that I'll gladly wait in a line, bring cash, and not ask for substitutions.

Our friends M and A live in the neighborhood and had been to Pasta Mia a couple of times. We relied on their expertise and had a great dining experience.  First victory?  Arriving around 8:30 p.m. during the winter. This was late enough that the first rush of people was on its way out.  Also, I think cold temperatures may slightly deter people from going because they don't want to stand outside. 

Second victory? Letting M and A order the appetizers.  They warned us that the caesar salad and prosciutto and mozzarella were giant enough for 4 people and they were right.  We could have split this 6 ways easily.  Also, this caesar salad is $6.00.  Talk about cheap eats!

Everything at Pasta Mia is giant.  Go hungry or don't go at all.  Seriously.

The scale of these photos is hard to decipher, but trust me when I tell you that these plates are ginormous.  Even the biggest eater will be taking home a metric ton of leftovers.  We stretched each pasta dish into several meals.  If you're thinking of sharing, remember the $16 minimum per person on food.

Yes, the portions were giant and the prices reasonable ($17-ish for 3 days worth of pasta), but it was also pretty darn good.  B's pappardelle with bolognese was the perfect hearty dish for winter.  Yelpers decry the fact that Pasta Mia doesn't make its own pasta but whereever they get it from, it's got a nice snap to it. You just need to go in understanding that this is a red sauce Italian joint, not a temple of haute cuisine.  The prices are also about half what you'd pay at a place that makes its own pasta (see, e.g., Filomena).

My penne amatrice with spicy tomato sauce and pancetta was kick-you-in-your-teeth spicy and just the way I like it.  It made for very excellent leftovers the next couple of days.  I don't really like parmesan cheese dumped all over my pasta, but I was afraid to ask them to leave it off.  This just seems like a place that it's better to keep your mouth shut and eat.

Is the chef at Pasta Mia going to win a James Beard award? Absolutely not.  Is it a pain in the pitoot that they don't have a website, don't take reservations, and are cash only?  Absolutely.  But, if you want pasta portions bigger than your head in a no-frills atmosphere with cheap house wine, this is your place.

Second Thoughts from B

Most of us were dirt poor when we were in college.  (I used to think ALL of us were once poor college students but the Whole Foods next to GW put an end to that illusion).   Accordingly, most of us took great pride in finding ways to keep our bellies full while still saving a buck.  Tell me if any of my favorite tricks sound vaguely familiar...
  • The stand we all called "Buck Fitty" charged, you guessed it, $1.50 for a large sub sandwich
  • Creative use of carrots can double or triple the capacity of your Mongolian BBQ bowl and as long as it all fits, it costs the same
  • Restaurant supply warehouses are often cheaper than Costco... as long as you are ok buying rice by the ton
  • Stand around the right concession stand after an event and the leftover popcorn and pretzels are often given away for free
These were things you learned and passed down to the underclassmen.  But, only to the kids you liked because these were hard fought victories.  The secret place to park for free, the vendor who would slip you an extra-large helping of mystery meat, the somewhat odd but undeniably charming pasta joint with enormous portions.

Yeah, Pasta Mia is that kind of place that I would have adored as a poor college student and shared with only my favorite people.  You feel just a little cooler to know about it.  Not because it is the best in town, but because it is such a deal.  So for all of you who remember fondly those days when you signed up for a credit card to get a clean tshirt (and avoid another day of laundry), Pasta Mia is your place.
Pasta Mia on Urbanspoon


Karena said...

I LOOOVED Pasta Mia in college! Not sure I'd brave the wait these days though. I remember always coming back with a super full belly and an incredibly heavy to-go box. Yikes. You guys also just gave me a flashback to the tasty (and huge) mozzarella tomato appetizer we all used to split. yum. cheese.

J said...

Thank you for confirming our hunch that Pasta Mia is a great place for local college kids! We would have been all over it back in our college days. I'd go back if our AdMo-living friends wanted to go but I don't know that I'd trek across town for it.