Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pasta Amore

Restaurant: Pasta Amore e Fantasia
Address: 11027 Prairie Brook Rd - In Rockbrook Plaza
Genres: Italian
Check Constraints: $1 less for half portions, $3 to split portions (no soup or salad)
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.


  • Tortellini w/ Bolognese sauce. ($10)
  • Cup of Minestrone Soup. (Included)
  • Panna Cotta. ($4)
Chamelaeon doesn't have the mental strength to start this one out today, so I guess I will. I ought to be the resident expert on authentic Italian food. My honeymoon was a tour of Italy, during which I ate a ton of amazing Italian food. Unfortunately, I don't remember a lot of the details. My mental picture of Italian has become Olive Garden. Even so, I could tell there were plenty of authentic things about this restaurant.

The restaurant itself is in the back of the Rockbrook Plaza. There isn't a ton of parking there, so I was a little surprised to see so few people in the restaurant. That actually changed quickly after we sat down. We probably came in just before the lunch rush. There was an older lady who greeted us at the door, and she sounded like she had a bit of an accent. She came by once in a while to refill our water and check on us in addition our regular waitress, who seemed to be fairly busy. The website and front door claim "true Italian" food exists inside, and I would tend to agree. The website also mentions that the master chef was trained in Italy.

First, the rolls. Rolls were everywhere in Italy. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The typical roll was a white bread that was nearly rock solid on the outside with a soft center. The rolls here were more of a wheat bread and had a lot softer crust. They were not exactly the same, but they were good nonetheless.

The minestrone was great. The vegetables were soft, and the noodles were not too soft. I actually expected them to be softer, but I'm guessing that's because I'm used to microwave-heated, canned soups. We only got a small cup with our meals, so it was gone fast. I could easily have a larger bowl of it as the main dish.

I tried some of Cham's red pepper appetizer stuff. It was quite different and felt fairly authentic. I don't remember what it was called, but it was a good sized portion of red pepper strips that were served cold with olive oil and some other seasonings. It was a strange slippery texture with a mild red pepper taste. It's probably not a dish for everyone. The garlic cheese bread was decent. It seemed like a smaller portion that was made for two. I didn't try the bruschetta.

The tortellini was pretty good. It was simply beef and pork in noodles with sauce on top. The bolognese sauce is red meat sauce. I thought some of the tortellini were a little dry on the inside. If most of them were, the sauce covered it up well. It was a reasonable portion for the price.

Panna Cotta is an Italian custard. I first heard of it in Italy, and I actually haven't seen it around since. It's not really an American-style dessert. It is heavier than whipped cream and lighter than ice cream. This one was served chilled with a little bit of berry sauce on top. I think it was blueberry, but it could have been mixed berries. There was also a think layer of something a little less opaque than the white custard. The panna cotta was really sweet and creamy, and I think it was close to what I remembered. It was actually very good. I was impressed to see it on the menu, and it did not disappoint.

As a closing note, both our regular waitress and the other lady seemed curious about who we were. The other lady wondered if one of us had a birthday. She said people don't usually order desserts at lunch. The waitress was curious as to where we worked. She seemed impressed that we "knew our food". Maybe we were just surprisingly good at our pronunciation? We must have been rather atypical customers for them.

  • Roasted Red Peppers ($6)
  • Spaghetti Carbonara, Traditional ($10)
    • Pasta Fagioli
  • Mixed Berry Cake ($4)
It's been a pretty trying week at work, so I was looking forward to relaxing a little and enjoying some Italian food. I got the latter, but if you're looking for the former, you probably should look elsewhere, because Pasta Amore looks upscale, and the clientèle there seemed to match. White tablecloths, a full place setting, and people in suits made my business-casual self feel a little under dressed.
Don't let that stop you from going, though. The food is fantastic, and they could charge a great deal more than they do for it. I imagine you could do a lot worse for a dinner date out than approximately $14 per plate (the dinner prices are $3-4 more than the lunch prices), and the aforementioned ambiance makes it seem like you're paying a lot more than you are. Every entree comes with soup or salad, and the non-pasta dishes come with vegetables as well, so it's certainly affordable and eminently delicious.

Really delicious. The red pepper appetizer was easily enough to split for two - there were likely two red peppers, roasted and then skinned, drizzled with olive oil, lemon, and garlic, then dusted with parsley. The strong oil and lemon flavors did well with the equally strong pepper taste, which was just slightly sweet in the way red peppers have. It's served with a lemon as garnish, and if you're not afraid of seeming a little gauche, make sure to squeeze that onto the peppers for the extra hit of flavor.

I think I was the only one who ate any of ND's bruschetta, so let me proffer my opinion - steer clear. It was by no means bad, but it was essentially chopped tomato and green olives on toast, and in the manner of such things was heaped high enough such that it was hard to actually get it into your mouth. It lacked much flavor other than "Why, hello, I am fresh tomato", which is not the best flavor for your dish to have when actual ripe tomatoes are way out of season. It may be better in the summer, but for this visit, the cheese bread was superior, and is priced at the same cost.

Pasta fagioli, which I had never had before, is a tomato-based bean soup, with (not shockingly) pasta. The pasta was nice and al dente, which as Moogle mentions is not really something you get often in canned soups. Traditionally I'm a strict minestrone fan, but this was excellent also.

The spaghetti carbonara is not on the menu per se - it's part of their "Pasta By Request", which lets you pair a pasta with one of their sauces. They offer two carbonaras - "American" and "Traditional". Traditional carbonara is a fairly simple recipe: garlic, cooked pancetta, parmesan, pepper, and raw eggs cracked into the hot pasta which cooks them. This it may sound a little disconcerting, but it is incredibly delicious. Pasta Amore adds peas to it, for color more than anything. American carbonara adds cream and less egg, which takes the sauce closer to an alfredo than anything.
It was an excellent dish, though it could have been improved by adding a touch more parmesan.
I didn't pick up much of that flavor in it, so when asked if I wanted cheese, I gladly assented. Where I was expecting fresh grated parmesan, though, I got a shaker full of pregrated. I try pretty hard not to be a snob about such things, but honestly, the single largest improvement they could have made on my meal was fresh parmesan. It would have taken my dish from excellent to somewhere over the top of the Platonic ideal of Delicious.

The mixed berry cake was pretty good, for all that the berries were in no way fresh. It was a short-rimmed pie crust, filled with cream and them topped with a sponge cake slice, which was topped with the berries, and then drizzled with what I assume was a mixed-berry sauce, since I couldn't isolate any one berry flavor. For $4, it's a way better investment than the overpriced monstrosities at the Firewater Grille.

Unfortunately, I haven't been to Italy like Moogle has, so I can't speak to the actual authenticity of the meal. I can, however, say that it delivers awesome flavor for a definitely reasonable price, and it's well worth trying out for a lunch, and quite probably a dinner. You might bring a tie, though.


  • Fettucini Alfredo w/ Chicken & Shrimp ($10 + $1 + $2)
  • Cup of Pasta Fagioli Soup. (Included)
  • Tiramisu. ($4)
  • Tomato Bruschetta ($3)
  • Cheese Garlic Bread ($3)
Okay, first off, I was almost sorta uncomfortable with the atmosphere in this place. It's WAY more upscale than I'm accustomed to, let alone comfortable in. The place is both formal and cozy at the same time, and unfortunately, the tables are a tad close together, so at lunch, it's pretty easy for one loud table to overwhelm the ones near it.

The tomato bruschetta wasn't really what I expected, but it was cheap, so I don't mind. I am not, however, someone who can actually manage to eat non-processed tomatoes, due to a tragic childhood "accident." I actually got it for the others, because it was my turn to buy appetizers. The cheese bread, on the other hand, was just a smidge short of the best I've ever had, coming in second only to the Brazen Head's heavenly choir cheese bread. For three bucks, I'd buy it every time I went, without fail.

I had never before had Pasta Fagioli, and had no idea what it contained, but I did know that I'm not a huge fan of minestrone, so I went for it instead of a salad. I'm pretty sure I didn't expect to get a bowl of bean soup with some noodles in it, but the flavor was actually not bad at all, and I can have salad any time I want, so I don't regret trying it.

The tiramisu was pre-made, but tasted very much like it was made on-site, rather than shipped in. I'm fairly certain that it was a new batch made that morning, in fact, and it tasted nicely of everything it was supposed to. Especially the alcohol, which was there just enough to make its presence known without overwhelming the other flavors. For four bucks, I honestly expected a smaller portion or lower quality, and I'm happy to say I got neither.

I made a big show about possibly wanting to try something that -wasn't- alfredo, but in the end, I couldn't really decide on anything else, especially after Mecha and Jay took the two main contenders. They don't specifically say that they're willing to do both chicken and shrimp, but I asked for it and they did it without remark, which makes me happy.

The shrimp was only three pieces, but those three pieces gave me a wonderful, wonderful flavor. The shrimp was clearly pan-fried, but was nice and firm, and the sides were seared just enough to add both crispiness and delicious browned flavor. The chicken was nothing special, but there was a LOT of it, and I can get behind that.

The alfredo itself had an excellent consistency, perfect both for covering the meat and for sticking to the pasta, and also for mopping up with bread. That's a very hard consistency to achieve. The flavor was just on the good side of bitter, and clearly favored the cream over the parmesan, which may or may not be authentic, but either way, isn't my preference. That would have been just fine with me if they'd had fresh shredded parmesan, which can easily balance out the overly creamy flavor, but the grated stuff would have turned the sauce very dry if I used enough of it to get the right flavor.

I'd like to say that the alfredo told me something about this place, but if it did, I'm really not sure what it was. It could be that the chef makes an excellent alfredo, but for various reasons, they're not able to serve proper parmesan with it, and he hasn't adjusted the recipe for it. The alfredo certainly wasn't BAD, and definitely was among the best I've had in a long time. There's a big void in my information here, where I don't know why they have grated parmesan instead of the good stuff. Everything else about the place seemed authentic enough that they'd go the last mile for the good cheese. It leaves me feeling puzzled. Even with all that, though, I'd still go back for more. Maybe to try Cham's traditional carbonara.


  • Penne Alfio. ($10)
  • Cup of Pasta Fagioli Soup. (Included)
Yes, yes, I'm late. My brain has been elsewhere. The atmosphere definitely hints at upscale, much like Jaipur did. But they didn't seem too bothered. Although as others mentioned, they certainly paid us some attention.

I tried the cheese bread, but there was enough food that I stayed away from the Bruschetta. It was solid cheese bread and 3 bucks is just fine for it. The only having a couple pieces, though, is a bit of a downer, but make it 6 bucks and get more! The peppers were really nice, but Cham mostly covered why. Really edible for red peppers, which might be a bit surprising to some people.

The soup I'd never had before. It had a lot of things with interesting and odd texture, but a good flavor. I wouldn't mind eating it again, but big chunks like some of those made things really, really inconsistent, which is something I'm becoming more sensitive to. It didn't make things bad, but it's a personal niggle.

The Penne Alfio, to copy from the website, is "Penne with grilled chicken strips, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil." The pasta and chicken made it a pretty filling dish on its own, but the flavors were very subtle/light. It was tough for me to identify the artichoke hearts in it, but the taste itself on the overall was consistent and pleasant. I don't have any complaints about the dish, but maybe I've just been having too much of things with a stronger taste that I feel like I wanted something a bit heavier in the taste department. And in the end, I was too full for dessert, so I couldn't try that out. Maybe another time.

As a note, the people are also nice and friendly even when we weren't paying them. ;) Apparently losing water bottles is not the only thing I do, and they were very understanding about me leaving my credit card there. Did I mention the mind being elsewhere thing? We have become fairly used to long lunches at this point, but the overall speed wasn't too bad. If it wasn't such a hike, we might have made an hour-thirty. But ultimately, it's a pretty good place, and as Cham said, it makes you feel like you're paying more than you are a bit. Which isn't a bad thing at all.

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