Review No. 22: Pasta Grill
915 Front Street
14.1 percent finished with reviews of Conway restaurants
He Said: We’ve been saying we need to eat at Pasta Grill for weeks, but then every time we drive by there seems to be a crowd waiting outside, so who has time for that? Then we figured if we got there right at five, the retirees’ hour, we might be able to get right in, which we did. Though admittedly it was a Tuesday night.
Which brings me to a pet peeve. (Rant ahead. Skip to next paragraph if you wish to avoid rant.) Pasta Grill (like a number of upscale restaurants) does not take reservations for parties fewer than 8. Now how on earth is this a good idea? It clearly contributes to the lines of people you see standing outside. Perhaps the point is to make your place look very popular since people have to wait to get in. But how annoying is it to decide you want to eat there, call to make a reservation, be told that you can’t do so, and get there and have to wait an hour before you get in? With all those people waiting, it’s not like they are going to have trouble filling that table if somebody doesn’t show, and why risk deliberately annoying your customers? If I were in such a situation, I’d call Mike’s Place just down the street, where they’d take my reservation. Thus endeth the rant.
She Said: Yes, I’d be curious about the reason nice restaurants don’t accept reservations for tables of two or four (or even six sometimes), because it does seem that if I want to come there enough to call you in advance, you’d want to nurture the relationship by taking the reservation. To be fair, Ruud, Pasta Grill does allow you to call about 30 minutes ahead and put your name on the list to minimize your wait, but that does not a reservation make. So, since we are old, we got there at 5:01 p.m. I’d been cutting carbs for days in advance to prepare for this pasta and bread and dessert blow-out. I’ve eaten at Pasta Grill enough to know it would be worth it.
He Said: The rich wood and brick interior give Pasta Grill a comfortable Old World feel, appropriate for what aspires to be a genuine Italian restaurant. Frank Sinatra was singing in the background—and because October is apparently still a summer month in Arkansas, they do what a lot of Central Arkansas eateries do: turn the thermostat so far down that you might actually be uncomfortable. Fortunately I wore a sport coat and didn’t shiver.
She Said: I actually wasn’t cold in there, though I often am in Arkansas restaurants, stores and theaters in the summer. I love the interior. It’s a small-ish space, but I love the configuration with the saturated dark colors. It is a good place for a romantic or intimate dinner because the booths are very private and the décor lends itself well to this. The benches are a little hard without cushions, but I guess that means I should just eat more pasta so I can bring my own “cushion” with me.
He Said: Again, if you read this blog often, you know I can’t drink alcohol. So I was really happy to see—and what I don’t see on many other menus (subject of a previous rant)—that they actually tell you what soft drinks they have: Pepsi products. That meant Mountain Dew, my soft drink of choice when I can get it and don’t mind being hopped up on caffeine for a while.
She Said: I can’t believe you still drink that at your age, Ruud! Pasta Grill has a nice wine and beer list (there are no cocktails, as they don’t have a full bar), and they have one of my favorite wines, the Coppola Claret. The house chianti is very reasonably priced at $5 or $6 a glass, I believe, and I’ve enjoyed that before, too.
He Said: What does my age have to do with it? Anyway, there is no question that Pasta Grill is the best Italian restaurant in Conway. Of course, it doesn’t have a lot of competition, other than pizza places, but it would rank highly in any case, even in the Little Rock market. We have never had a bad meal here. Now it must be said that there are not many good choices for someone on a low fat diet, since pretty much everything has cheese, butter, and red meat in it. In the past I’ve had simple spaghetti with meatless marinara sauce—not very exciting but certainly low in fat. I’ve occasionally had their manicotti, which is rolled pasta in marinara sauce and herbs stuffed with cheese—that one is mostly low fat. Today I opted for one of the house specialties—the salmon gnocchi. This is a dish with potato gnocchi, capers, artichoke hearts, caramelized onions and Cajun salmon filet. Nothing there that sets off the fat-calorie alarm. But all of this deliciousness is made more delicious by sitting in a lemon-infused cream sauce. Now that sauce was great, but probably gave me my entire fat allowance for the day. But I’d have it again tomorrow, and take the fat chance.
I should say I did start with the soup of the day, which was a tomato basil soup. I can’t tell you what all was in it, but it tasted something like a hot gazpacho. It was one of the best soups I’ve had in Conway, and I’d like to see it on the menu regularly. I’d go back just for the soup.
She Said: I pretended to look over the menu, because it’s extensive, but I knew what I was eating when I got up that morning. (Ruud mentioned we were looking forward to this because it had been awhile since we’d eaten here.) Usually I have a Caesar salad to start, but I skipped that tonight because I had a big salad for lunch. But, I did mightily enjoy the garlic bread our friendly waiter brought to our table. It’s so good, buttery and warm, and they’ll bring you more if you want it. We forbade our server from doing that, because we would have eaten two of those mini loaves without thinking twice about it. Then, I went for my hands-down favorite at Pasta Grill, the portabella mushroom ravioli. This is in a delightful cream sauce and has a mushroom filling with sautéed mushrooms dressing the dish. It’s such a great vegetarian option, very filling, rich and tasty. This dish is one of the delights of life living in Conway.
And because we were writing a review, we simply had to have dessert. I have to admit, I’m a huge cannoli fan, but I’ve never tried Pasta Grill’s because the flour tortillas the menu lists as their take on the classic is unappealing to me (I like the classic!), but I’ve got no dessert complaints here because … chocolate espresso cake! When we ordered our server said, “Just one?” and I started laughing, because those pieces are huge. Absolutely huge. We split the cake, and then took half of it home, if that gives you any idea of the size. I hadn’t had dessert in two and a half weeks, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything as beautiful as that big piece of dark chocolate cake with thick, delicious frosting. Perfection. The espresso flavor is mild enough to be a delightful note in the rich chocolate of the cake.
He Said: The service was friendly and attentive. Our waiter did try to sell me Sierra Mist instead of Mountain Dew, forgetting that the Dew IS a Pepsi product. But he was there with the bread and drinks right away, didn’t make us wait half an hour before ordering the entrees, brought the meals in a really timely manner, refilled my soda and asked if I wanted a glass to go, and brought the check without making us track him down. So yes, service is a plus here.
She Said: Yes, our waiter was very professional and friendly, as was the hostess who seated us. If I’d been asked if I wanted a second glass of wine, I would have said, “Yes!” but I decided not to ask for one myself and go home for a nightcap. On a slightly related note, here’s a pro tip for diners, the straws for your water are preset at the places, rolled inside the napkins along with the silverware. We probably asked for straws on our first five visits before we remembered to look for them there.
What We Got and What We Paid: A cup of the soup of the day, salmon gnocchi, portabella mushroom ravioli, chocolate espresso cake, a Mountain Dew (with refills) and a glass of Coppola claret. All for a pretty reasonable $59.03.
He Said: Again, best Italian food in Conway, with creative choices that combine some Cajun ideas with the basic Italian. One of the major go to Conway restaurants. But don’t try to get a reservation here.
She Said: High on our list of go-to restaurants in Conway for consistently rich and delicious Italian food—or any cuisine—professional service and GREAT cake.
So…He Said and She Said: Go here for a satisfying dining experience…and plan ahead for the crowds or plan to wait.