Gourmet pasta doesn't have to come off a $300 tasting menu
A $9.99 meal deal at Pasta Flyer is a fraction of the price of a tasting menu at Del Posto -- or pretty much any sit-down restaurant in Manhattan. And Ladner isn’t the only chef moving from Michelin stars to fast-casual. Former Del Posto pastry chef Brooks Headley left to launch vegan-patty specialist Superiority Burger in 2015, and even Eleven Madison Park now has its own “fast fine” derivative, Made Nice, which serves protein, veggie and grain bowls under $20.
With high quality coming so cheap and accessible, it’s easy to wonder: Are New Yorkers being duped into exorbitant pricing by flashy marble staircases, hard-to-secure, easy-to-covet reservations, and leather-bound menus? Pasta Flyer and its ilk have much lower overheads -- there are no hosts, sommeliers or servers, and no linens to fold, silverware to polish, or glassware to replace -- yet the product itself is superb. Ladner imports dry pasta from Italy (he prefers its texture to the supple, fresh stuff); the sauces are all homemade; and while the food is no work of art, it’s neatly presented.
“Most people feel that great pasta has to be handcrafted in an elaborate and romantic way, which is not untrue in a fine dining environment,” Ladner says. “But it certainly doesn’t have to cost $50 a plate.”
Ladner isn’t dismissing the provenance of pricey pasta in Manhattan, but rather wants to expand diners’ ideas about what great pasta is and where it’s eaten. “There’s room for everything in New York, that’s what makes the city so great, but it’s also always changing, which is also what makes it great,” Ladner says. “I loved working in fine dining, but the elitism of it... just seems sort of strange.”