A tiny, quiet, 28-seat Italian eatery in North Scottsdale is cooking some really good Italian-American food.
The other night, the charming place was almost empty for early dinner hour. This changed when a woman hurried in. She must have been hungry, for she asked for whatever dish took the shortest to make, and tacked on a soup once she learned a pot of tomato-basil was ready.
She demolished the soup, sitting at a communal table under the shadow of a wall-spanning mural of a lush vineyard in the Italian heartland. The main course of her meal was ready in under five minutes. Heels clopping, she exited and made for her car. She then proceeded to eat the remnants of her dinner in the driver's seat.
At this point, I got excited for the meal coming to me at Pasto di Forno.
The casual restaurant opened quietly in April 2017. A former front of the house manager at The Persian Room named Ally Roman opened it with a business partner. That partner has since split. This presented an obstacle because he was the chef. Ally's father, Carlos Roman, now helms kitchen duties.
These include washing pots as well as manning the oven and preparing pasta sauce in individual pans for the addition of cooked noodles. The other night, as my vodka sauce madly simmered, bubbling to a heady tomato thickness, Carlos darted back and forth from saucepans to scrubbing, preparing our meal and keeping up with huge takeout orders while keeping things clean.
Ally and her father are Mexican. Carlos has cooked in hotel kitchens, including the Four Seasons in Scottsdale after getting transferred from another location in Mexico. Ally is 21 and an ASU student. She is a health sciences major, and, of course, a novice restaurateur.
She got the idea for an Italian restaurant while traveling in Italy. She fell for Italian culture because of its overlaps with hers. "When I was in Italy, I felt at home," she says. "The Italian culture is similar to the Mexican culture. We focus on family, fresh ingredients, and there's lots of food all the time."
A brisket panini takes its cues from a shaved beef sandwich Ally had in Sorrento. She (or Carlos) presses that panini, stuffs it with thinly sliced brisket, red pepper aioli, and tomato, and presses it again. It's a fantastic panini. The bread is made in-house. It even comes with a side of minestrone (if you opt for soup instead of salad), making for a comforting homestyle meal.
Pasto di Forno has the welcoming, slow-paced vibes of a good Italian eatery. The menu is narrow, casual, and refreshingly unambitious. It features paninis, flatbreads, simple salads, and familiar pastas.
The dishes, though uncomplicated, are executed very well.
The "P di F" salad of romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onion was lightly slicked with a refreshing lemon vinaigrette. Crisp and bracing, the greens pries open the appetite.
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The pasta was a little overcooked to this pasta fiend's firm-leaning palate. But the vodka sauce was so robust and flavorful that it didn't matter. It leans to the tomato side of vodka sauce continuum (rather than the cream), with a rolling depth of the kind you get in sauce simmered for many hours. This is a vodka sauce with flavors that will recur in your mind on a loop, haunting you when you get hungry the following day. Carlos flambés the alcohol out of the sauce. If you want, you can request for the vodka's bite to be more present.
It's very encouraging to see casual, affordable Italian done so solidly in such humble digs. I can't vouch for the rest of the pasta roster, a newly introduced lineup replete with favorites like Bolognese and marinara. But I will say that there aren't many spots west of Philly I would eat lasagna, and I'd try some here.
Pasto di Forno. 7116 East Mercer Lane, #101, Scottsdale; 480-991-0486.
Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Monday.