Before opening to the public, Pastini threw a fundraiser and introduction party to benefit the High Desert Museum. Guests were invited to pay a small fee for a six-month membership to the museum and were treated to an open bar and a meal comprising sample portions of dishes. This was a smart move on the part the management-before trying to turn a buck, they ponied up to provide a venue for a great cause. Although the restaurant is part of a Portland-based chain, it's already giving back and becoming an active member of the community.
Pasta reigns supreme on the menu with the dishes separated into chicken, meat, vegetable and special pastas. To start the sample meal, we were served the Parmigiana Bread ($3.95), a baguette grilled with Parmesan cheese accompanied by marinara dipping sauce. It was simple and will be a big hit with the kids.
Next came two salads: the Butter Lettuce Salad ($5.25) and the Caprese ($4.95). The butter lettuce was fabulous with a Gorgonzola dressing, pancetta and chopped egg complimenting the lettuce's creamy flavor and texture. The Caprese (a traditional salad of tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and olive oil) was missing the signature heirloom-vine-ripened tomatoes. The restaurant did, however, add some flavor by tossing in some sun-dried tomatoes and calamata olives.
For our entrees we received four sample-sized dishes of pasta. The best was the Tortellini Gorgonzola ($10.95). Usually, I would shy away from something described as "three-cheese" due to the gut bomb factor, but these were surprisingly light. They were topped with fresh tomatoes and lightly wilted spinach, which added some levity to what is usually a heavy dish. The Rigatoni Zuccati ($9.50) was also very good with big chunks of perfectly braised butternut squash providing creaminess without heaviness. A smattering of wild mushrooms and spinach were scattered around big tubes of pasta lounging in a little puddle of rosemary cream sauce. My dining partner found the Linguini Pesto Pollo ($10.75) to be to his liking, but I found the chicken to be a bit dry. On the other hand, the shrimp in the Spaghetti con Gamberetti ($10.75) were perfectly cooked and had deep flavor with a bit of spicy heat.
Although the quaint photos on the walls and in the menu are trying to exude small-town Italian bistro, the expansive space with its high ceilings and modern fixtures, state of the art kitchen and army of wait staff is All-American mall dining. Shoppers and moviegoers can get good, familiar food in a hurry without breaking the bank. It's not high culinary art, but it certainly delivers bang for your dining buck.
375 SW Powerhouse Dr. (in The Shops at the Old Mill)
749-1060, www.pastini.net. 11am-9pm, Mon-Sun