Chef Gerard Craft has made an indelible impact on the St. Louis dining scene since opening his first restaurant, Niche, in Benton Park some eight years ago. With his penchant for creative cuisine and local purveyors, Craft has become nationally known and has garnered a slew of accolades. After Niche, he opened Brasserie by Niche and Taste by Niche, both highly successful concepts. Recently, he bowed eatery No. 4, Pastaria, in Clayton. The restaurant received much hype in the local and national press—not always a good thing—but during our recent foray, we're pleased to report the fuss was well-deserved.

Pastaria occupies a space in the Centene Building, facing Forsyth Boulevard. Passersby could look in the front window and see the pasta being made fresh. Inside, there was a large, open kitchen in the back of the restaurant, with seating around it for those who like to check out the back-of-the-house action—we highly recommend it! One wall was adorned with pizza peels autographed by various friends and mentors of Craft, and above the kitchen were blown-up family photos, all of which lent a little bit of hominess to the space. The ultra-high ceilings made for a bit of noise, but once you dig into your meal, you'll never notice.

The Shaved Kale ($12) was one of the best salads we've had in a good long while. Accented by a judicious amount of creamy anchovy dressing and topped with pecorino—a sheep's milk cheese—and bread crumbs, it had a real depth of flavor and texture.

The Pistachio Ravioli ($16) showed how handmade ingredients and attention to detail can elevate a simple dish into something really special. The small ravioli were tender and almost delicate, with just the right amount of 'give.' They were served up with a tangy lemon brown butter and a touch of mint, and topped with Grana Padano cheese.

Not going to get into the whole St. Louis pizza debate here, but suffice it to say that regardless of what style of pizza you think you prefer, it's imperative to check out the pizza at Pastaria before committing yourself to any camp. The crust was sort of a Neopolitan-flatbread style; and fired in the oven until it rose just so, and had just the right amount of crunch. It seemed we could taste the fire in it. We went with the Finocchiona Fennel Salami ($13) version, which had just some tomato and mozzarella to complement the meaty toppings. Delicious and oh-so-simple, and it went great with a glass of Civil Life American Brown Ale ($6) from the fine selection of local beers.

What better way to cap such an Italian feast than with some house-made Gelato ($7)? Our choice was some of the butternut squash rum, along with the licorice and dark chocolate with taleggio cheese. The Pastaria gelato flavors change often, based on what ingredients are available, so there always will be something new to try.

Pastaria offered free parking in the Centene garage, and was very family-friendly. Be advised, the restaurant doesn't take reservations and won't seat partial parties, so there may be a bit of a wait for a table.

Pastaria was certainly a case of a restaurant more than meeting some really big expectations.


--Pastaria, 7734 Forsyth Blvd, 862-6603,

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