A few months ago, I lamented that a popular pasta house didn't bother to make its own fresh pasta. The process is time-consuming, but it isn't difficult, and it seemed that a restaurant specializing in bowls of noodles and sauce might want to crank out one or two homemade offerings. Not sure if I convinced that place, but my rant did elicit an e-mail from a neighborhood trattoria — Da Sesto's Italian Restaurant — that does make its own pasta. Lots of it.
Stick with that pasta and you'll have a fine meal at Da Sesto. Branch out, and you'll run into trouble.
For the past decade, the husband-and-wife team of Sesto Ramadori and Micheline Rozon have run the Florida Pasta Company, cranking out fresh pasta that they sell to the public and restaurants across the state. Most of their sales end up on Florida's east coast. Locally, "we provide pasta to the Don Cesar, Tradewinds, the Vinoy," says Ramadori, "but the smaller restaurants around here haven't bought in." Earlier this year, the couple opened Da Sesto's to promote the product and expose the general public to the pleasures of the fresh stuff.
Ramadori isn't new to the restaurant world. Before he moved to Florida, he had three Italian joints in Montreal. "My 9-year-old daughter told me I was never home, so I left the business the very next day," he says. He also had a company that sold and serviced pasta equipment, and one of his clients was the Florida Pasta Company. They bought the outfit, and a few months later, the family found itself elbow deep in semolina on the Gulf coast.
His daughter headed off to college last year, and Ramadori was ready to scratch the restaurant itch once more. Enter Da Sesto, with a menu of standard trattoria fare bolstered by an extensive array of fresh pasta unmatched by any other restaurant in the Bay area. Shells, penne, rigatoni, fusilli, fettucine, spaghetti, angel hair and linguine are available all the time. Just days before they hit the plate, these noodles are a mere glint in the eye of Rozon — who now runs the pasta company — a collection of eggs, flour and water with a destiny.
There is no al dente here, just the even, tender texture that sets fresh apart from dried, with a natural richness that bagged pasta can't match. Sauce is naturally attracted to fresh pasta, with even the smoothest strands holding olive oil, tomato or herb in a death grip.
I don't want to foment marital discord in the Ramadori-Rozon household, but a meal at Da Sesto should pretty much start and end with that pasta.
Although Da Sesto's Bolognese ($8.95) is more like a stripped-down New York meat sauce than the elegant and milky-rich classic, it's hearty and comforting when tossed with great spaghetti. Pesto ($8.25) is also lacking in richness that could be provided by nuts or cheese, leaving excellent angel hair swimming in a sea of dried herbs and olive oil. Still, because of the pasta, we clean the plate.
Katia ($8.95) — a pink liquid of cream and tomato — is restrained, which allows the noodles to shine. Only "Mamma Angela's" sauce ($11.95) provides a value-added service to the pasta, imbuing linguine with smoke and fat from sausage, pancetta and ham, while sautéed mushrooms add earthy depth and capers blast away with tart brine.
Not all the pasta is masterful, though. Gnocchi is dense and pasty, barely able to compete against supermarket brands, especially when doused in grainy gorgonzola sauce ($12.25). Cheese ravioli is stuffed with a ricotta mixture that is well nigh tasteless.
When it comes to heartier entrées, Da Sesto comes up short. Veer into veal, and you'll be reaching for the side of spaghetti marinara more than the main course. Piccata ($16.25) has an intensely lemony sauce dotted by capers, but the meat has the unpleasant texture of a kitchen sponge. A special of veal medallions topped by sage, prosciutto and fresh mozzarella ($16.95) has better texture but comes across as innocuous. So does a gigantic mass of fettucine alfredo dotted with hunks of sautéed chicken ($12.95), the sauce so boring it turns us off to all that gorgeous pasta.
Da Sesto features a few other items worth giving a try, like cornmeal-crusted green olives stuffed with cheese and sausage and deep fried ($6.95) or bruschetta ($4.75) featuring meaty tomatoes and fresh garlic. Both are good to nosh on while waiting for the pasta to show.
Then again, the best option might be to just buy the Florida Pasta Company pasta from the small market space on one side of the dining room. The fresh noodles cost an extremely reasonable $4.19 per pound (more for stuffed varieties). Take it home, boil it briefly (fresh pasta cooks much quicker than dry), and toss it with some olive oil and garlic or butter and parmesan cheese. Look up a simple sauce recipe if you have to.
But do it soon. According to Ramadori, that price may be going up. Like milk and eggs, flour has drastically increased in price over the past year. "Semolina has gone from $13.65 to $22 [a bag]," he says. "The next time I buy it, it'll be $37. When the price of flour goes up, it's scary."
Even then, though, it will likely be worth the price for a couple pounds of Ramadori and Rozon's linguine or rigatoni. If you decide to enjoy the silky noodles at Da Sesto, stick to salads, appetizers and the straightforward pairings of sauce and pasta, and you'll be fine.