I spent the better part of my lunch hour last Thursday in Seattle waiting patiently for a gloriously messy Cuban Roast at Paseo (worth the wait). I was in the mood for something a bit lighter and more expeditious the following day, so I did as I usually do when I need advice in a new city: I turned to Twitter.
I'm a huge fan of specialized restaurants. Gimme a burger joint that makes just one perfect burger over an overwrought chain with hundreds of (often mediocre) options any day. When a shop specializes in something, it can mean one of two things: either (a) the chef is so terrible a cook that they can't possible come up with more than one dish, or b) the chef is a loon obsessed with perfecting the minutia of his craft on a level that can only be described as crazy.
Il Corvo Pasta is the latter.
Open only for lunch, and only on weekdays—Chef-owner Mike Easton is one of the few successful chefs in the business who's carved out a life for himself outside of his kitchen— the austerity of its hours is matched only by the austerity of its menu: You have a choice of two pastas each day, and that's it.
Ok, that's not quite it. There are a few rotating appetizers—a punchy cucumber salad, and thin-sliced prosciutto served with pickled celery when I was there—along with a couple of always-on-the-menu simple sauce options, in case the specials of the day don't strike your fancy. But don't order those. It'd be like heading to Chez Panisse and asking for the steak.
On my visit, I was torn between ordering the Creste di Galli with a ragù alla Bolognese, or the mixed pasta with morels and cream. It's a tough choice. On the one hand, I've never had a cresto di gallo before. The thick tube of extruded pasta, with a fat ruffle like a cock's comb on top, looked like the kind of pasta shape that could quickly become my favorite, and paired with bolognese, one of my first culinary loves, no less.
On the other hand, mixed pasta with fresh Oregon morels in the height of Oregon morel season? That's a tough plate to say no to, so I didn't. I paid my $9 at the register up front (nothing on the menu tops $10) and sat down at the communal table, wondering if it was perhaps a bit odd that the bearded cashier looked at the name on my credit card and said "I like reading your things."*
*This is my way of explaining that I got made—recognized—which I feel as a responsible journalist, it's my duty to report. I don't believe it affected my experience at all. And I decided not to nod knowingly at him and respond, "and I like reading your things," in order not to be creepy.
The pasta, when it arrived, was fantastic. Chewy where it should be, tender when it needed to be. Easton rolls, extrudes, and folds a variety of shapes, all on rare or antique pasta machines—how very hipster, right?
But the difference between his pasta and pasta produced on modern machines is striking. I couldn't identify all of the shapes—a few of them were quite obscure—but I'd say I got at least a few ricciolini, some pipe, a rotini or two, and some brand new species of conchiglie, with a spiral-shaped shell that he must have discovered crawling along the back of an antique shop somewhere in Italy. Easton's is pasta with personality. It's got imperfections and ridges, all the better for picking up sauce with.
With pasta this great, the sauce becomes almost incidental; a flavorful accent to what is largely a textural experience. But it was no less skillfully crafted than the pasta, creamy yet light, packed with earthy morel flavor, accented with just a bit of grated parmesan.
I still think it's a little crazy to open a restaurant serving only pasta for only 20 hours a week, but after tasting it, this is the kind of crazy I can get behind.
Il Corvo Pasta
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.