Eatery - The Pasta Shoppe (CA)
38 W Victoria St, Ste 122, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Pricing - $$ | Dining - Casual | Cuisine - Italian
When in Rome, eat fresh pasta. When in Santa Barbara, eat fresh pasta as well. Wait, what was that? There's fresh pasta available? My friends and I salivated and bit into several plates of the stuff when we visited the Santa Barbara Public Market one trip (hats off to one of my friends who researched the place ahead of time) and were quite pleased with the results. Italian has long been a cherished cuisine of mine, and any chance I get to partake in some fresh pasta indulgence, I will. The Pasta Shoppe makes it easy by being the first stand to your left when you walk in the doors to the Santa Barbara Public Market. Bags of dry pasta sit on a shelf waiting to be taken home as well as a glass display of their fresh varieties. If only Santa Barbara were home, I'd gladly take a few pounds back to a kitchen to play with but since it was not, we were grateful for the chef's counter to dive into some dishes!
If you pull up a stool along the bar, you can watch the staff prepare your fresh pasta dishes with swiftness and care for the coveted items. Their menu reads simple, as should Italian places, and though we were asked whether we'd like to start with the soup or one of two salads (Caprese or arugula), the goal in mind was clear: we needed fresh pasta in our bellies. To start? Their Potato Gnocchi ($15 - basil and pine nut pesto with Parmesan) over any of the sandwiches and grilled pizzas. A measure of masterful success at any Italian place, in my mind, is with what skill they form the potato dumplings that so often come off starchy or rubbery. The Pasta Shoppe did not disappoint because these morsels were pillowy and soft, pleasantly silky and wonderful. Being coated in pesto helped along the creamy mouthfeel, and I truly enjoyed how strong the basil was. They did not skimp on the sauce whatsoever, and of course, fresh Parmesan is always welcome.
Our favorite from all of our dishes was their Gigli ($15 - fennel sausage, wilted arugula, spicy tomato sauce, and Parmesan), primarily because the pasta stood out immensely here. It was phenomenally soft and wholesome, feeling just like how fresh pasta should. The sausage was vibrant and the sauce flavorful, augmenting the sausage well with its slight spicy kick. Finely grated Parmesan atop it all added to the texture profile of the whole dish which was very comforting and had us wanting more and more bites.
The least favorite from the dishes was their Spinach Ricotta Ravioli ($15 - tomato basil pomodoro with Parmesan) which we had ordered as an afterthought, thinking that our original two orders would not be enough to sate our desire for fresh pasta. The only reason why this was not liked as much might have been caused just a bit by our last minute decision to add it to our dishes - the pasta was not fully cooked through. My assumption is that they tried to bring everything out all at once, piping hot, but because the ravioli was added on after the fact, it did not get the same star treatment. Should it have? Sure. Did it? Not exactly so it was stiffer towards the edges where the pasta layers connected. Also, of all of the sauces, the pomodoro here was more one-dimensional. However, the filling was still lovely and balanced so our excitement did not fall too short.
Overall, a good experience was had, and I was happy to have come across this eatery in Santa Barbara. I think I'll have to come back for that gigli dish someday, if it is still around. After all, the delicious place does follow the habit of most these days in providing seasonally changing menus. Let us hope that it's available when you decide to visit as well!
Photography by Minerva Thai.