How do I love (Pasta) di? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach..."
Forget Robert Browning and her passion for him; Elizabeth Barrett could have been writing about food. Especially if she had been to the new location of Pasta di Solazzi.
Since 1982 Pasta di has been offering Colorado Springs culinary delights with an Italian flair. First located at Woodmen and Academy, the store moved to Uintah Station in the early '90s. Now it has found its permanent spot on Centennial just past Garden of the Gods in the same mall that houses Marigold's.
"Newer! Bigger! Better!" are adjectives I generally associate with laundry detergent but they happily apply to Pasta di Solazzi in its present form. From the black and white checkerboard squares paving the entrance to the whimsical pendant lights and sculptural metal and wood chairs, from display racks of exotic imported food treats (we call them staples) to the heavy flatware and thinly elegant bottles of olive oil on the tables, this is a feast for palate and eye alike.
First the good news: all the offerings of the old location are still here. Olives (green, green stuffed with almonds, kalamata, Sicilian) and pestos (walnut sage, sundried tomato, sweet red pepper, artichoke-lemon, olive) are packaged so beautifully you'll want to buy them just for the jars. Cheese and ptes (meat and vegetable), deli meats like salami and bresaola, paper-thin air-cured beef, and the crustiest, tastiest bread this side of Tuscany are all still available. The take-out entrees that have saved more than one spontaneous dinner party are still stacked in the freezer waiting for you to pick one. You'll find several variations of lasagna (Mexican, sausage and veggie); cannelloni filled with beef or spinach pasta cannelloni with chicken and ham; beef burgundy; corn and cheddar souffl; paella; chicken and artichoke; and that penultimate comfort food, turkey pot pie. You won't ever have to cook again.
Now more good news: You can eat in. Display cases hold salads, hot entrees and appetizers. Procedurally, one salivates and points, and an eager young server piles the food on a plate. All hot entrees are $4.50; all cold ones $3.50. Sampler plates are available, or you can get two half-portions for the price of one full. What could be simpler? Well, the choices one must make render this anything but simple. My best advice: Try everything.
Trying everything more than once, however, will be tricky. Selections change every day and your current favorite, like the sausage-stuffed mushrooms or the Orchietto pasta with broccoli in a cheesy, garlicky sauce that we tried one day, may not re-appear for a while. Console yourself with pasta with peas and cheese, penne bolognese or lemon chicken with vegetable-flecked rice. Is that asparagus souffl or crisp tangy green bean salad not available today? Go for the spinach salad studded with bacon, pine nuts and creamy bits of gorgonzola, all held together with a lovely vinaigrette. A mushroom salad with parmesan, an artichoke salad, or a tomato and red onion salad will also get your mind off that green bean salad. Go ahead; play the field.
Especially the appetizer field. We tried a sampler that included a salmon ceviche, a bit of marinated tuna, pork and red peppers in a champagne vinaigrette, dolmas filled with creamy goat cheese, and some eggplant caponata. All were elegantly simple. The salmon, for example, was marinated in oil, lemon and black pepper. Nothing fancy; just salmon perfection.
The secret ingredient, I am sure, was a little bit of Italian magic. Head chef Americo Boccia and his sous chef Francesco Pane were somehow enticed (or stolen) from Naples. May they live long and happy lives here.
Pastry chef Brian Kruse works his own magic with desserts or, if your priorities are in order, breakfast. Pasta di opens at 7 a.m. for espresso and oh, say, an almond tart or a chocolate souffl. We tried a tiramisu light enough to float away, and an apple tart made in apple heaven. The coffee and dessert bar is separate from the other eat-in sections. The overall effect is of free-standing islands of delightful opportunities.
Smiling gangs of denim- and khaki-clad staff roam throughout the shop, fetching drinks from the impressive list of Italian wines by the glass or bottle, bringing samples of olive oil for dipping, desperate to help. Manager Andrea Baldrica has trained them well.
All in all, Pasta di Solazzi is a fun place to be. Excellent food, friendly people, a beautiful setting (grab a table in the balcony and watch the floor show below, or sit by the front windows and watch the sunset on the Peak). Countless choices, countless variations. It must be love.