For those accustomed to the sledgehammer across the face that passes for restaurant cuisine, do not despair. The Pasta Lab is more of a scalpel, slicing across the senses. Subtle, yet highly effective!
I won’t pretend that I’d paid attention to anything until I came out of the bathroom, so that’s where I’ll start, after the action. Tip: if you can’t accurately predict the long-term viability of a restaurant and the quality and cleanliness of the kitchen, I want you to remember that you always start with the bathroom. There is an eerie correlation between the level of cleanliness in the bathroom and what you’ll see in a kitchen. That formula held true because his place was immaculate!Minimalism is the coin of the realm here.
I bumped into that philosophy as I stepped over to the sink to wash my hands. Or rather, I tried to. The sink was a big, steel basin with generous metal tubes hooked over it. Clearly, this is where the water comes from. I spent 5 minutes looking at that thing from every angle trying to figure out HOW to get the water out. There were no dials, switches, or levers. I spent at least two minutes waving my hands around like a lunatic waving away aliens that only I could see. This was not activated with a motion-sensor. Finally, I stepped forward to look behind the sink. That’s when I stepped on the foot pedal (!) that turned on the water. It was the same kind of sink that surgeons use when preparing to go into an environment that demands cleanliness. That was my first encounter with the stoic, relentless approach to cleanliness that Anis takes towards everything he touches.The kitchen is encased in glass, so anyone can watch the food being prepared without disturbing the process.
When I looked at the menu, it reminded me of my chemistry classes in university. Part of the menu is a short tutorial on how to mix and match the pastas, sauces, and preparation styles they offer.
I decided to evaluate their food a bit differently than most. I wanted my first few dishes to be things that fell outside of their established comfort zone and challenge them with something that is easier to pronounce than it is to properly execute, French Tuna Nicoise Salad. This particular salad isn’t common in the Shanghai food scene. They put it together with grace and élan. It was a hearty portion of well-seasoned tuna surrounded by enough greenery to adequately satiate even my appetite. The greens tasted like they had just left a farmers care and the tuna was heavy enough to know it was present, yet light enough to keep me from feeling weighed down by it. It wasn’t a burden on the palette or the soul. I moved on to the pumpkin soup. The soup was firm but not heavy. In keeping with the standard of filling, but not overly dense food, his pumpkin soup could easily be served as a cold summer soup in the heat of the day or a warm late afternoon snack.
The pasta was not one of the pseudo or stereotypical “Italian” pasta dishes. The Pasta Lab under promised and over delivered. I opted for a ricotta and chicken filled pasta with a pesto cream sauce. Most of the cream sauces I have had in my life were like liquid concrete. Anis formulated a smooth, flavorful blend that compliments the pasta the way a sexy back-up dancer adds to a good musicians concert, keeping your interest without trying to be the star of the show.Pasta Lab is a virtual United Nations of cultures.
When I sat down after tour of the restaurant and its kitchen, I heard the music coming through the stereo. The music was sheik European that you’d find in a nightclub almost anywhere in the world. I saw everyone from a Hipster in oversized spectacles enjoying the free Wi-Fi to local Shanghainese guests vying for the attention of Anis, the restaurateur who brought his vision of what pasta should be to fruition. Even I had to talk to him in sporadic bursts of compliments and questions because he had to continually address the tide of guests that had come to see what the new diamond sparkling against the rough Shanghai night held inside.
Anis strikes me as a man who has earned The Horse Traders Eye™, an ability to analyse value and do business in highly competitive environments. He carries himself like a man who has earned his place in the professional community through hard work and dedication to anything he pursues.
When I said “diamond”, it was no exaggeration. Pasta Lab is a highly polished collection of tables and lights that’s highlighted by the words “I (HEART) PASTA!” spelled out in high voltage light bulbs on the rear wall.
Walking around the Jing An district in Shanghai is always an adventure. It’s home to quite a few unique stores and restaurants. Discovering The Pasta Lab was the best thing that’d happened to me that hour. Great things happen to me all day, and I like to keep track of them.
Address in English: 1106 Wuding Lu
Show this to any Chinese Taxi Driver: 武定路1106号