Those not enamored of Claire’s Corner Copia’s vegetarian offerings might be surprised by proprietors Claire and Frank Criscuolo’s new restaurant. They maintained one of their old operating principles: The food is made with organic or sustainable ingredients from local farms. But they also made one big change by choosing to offer food that — as they told INFO New Haven, a tourism guide to the city — is “not vegetarian, not kosher and not alcohol-free.”
Meat and alcohol being two things that are very dear to this reviewer, I was excited to see what these two veteran restaurateurs could do with these new weapons in their arsenal at their new venture, Basta Trattoria.
The atmosphere at Basta, located adjacent to Claire’s on Chapel Street, is simultaneously bustling and cozy. Even on a Monday night, the restaurant’s tables were pretty much full by six p.m., but the acoustics are good and one is easily able to hear one’s dinner companion without being forced to listen to someone else’s. The kitchen is partially open, creating an almost homey feel.
The decor is reserved and charming with the sole exception of a painted ceiling depicting, in increasing order of nauseousness, a neon blue sky with sickly looking clouds, one pair of chubby cherubim and one pair of chubby cherubic buttocks. The other problem at Basta is that every time the door to the street opens, every patron in the restaurant’s small dining area is hit by an icy blast of wind that quickly reminds every diner that he is not under the Tuscan sun.
The cuisine, as the wait staff will cheerfully and knowledgeably explain, is southern Italian, and southern Italian cuisine, as almost any food lover will tell you, is delicious.
The “piccoli piatti” or small plates range from the self-explanatory grilled jumbo shrimp on a rosemary skewer ($9) to the intriguing ricotta di’ Natale ($8), which, as the menu explains, is “hand-packed ricotta cheese, lightly toasted shaved almonds and berries, drizzled with Italian chestnut honey.”
As good as this sounded, I was in the mood for something a little less sweet, so I opted for the calamari fritti with two sauces ($9). These golden-brown little rings are peppery and delicious. Your waiter will assure you that they are so good because they are fried in organic sunflower oil. I assure you that I don’t care what they fry them in, so long as they keep it up. You can’t go wrong with either of the titular sauces, a creamy, tangy lemon aioli and a spicy, chunky marinara.
The pasta dishes are even more impressive than the starters. The penne arrabbiata ($14) is penne pasta served in a spicy sauce made with peppers and red wine. The flavors of tomatoes and basil come through clearly, followed quickly by the heat of cherry peppers.
Even better, however, is the farfalle funghi ($16). As the menu matter-of-factly explains, bowtie pasta is tossed in a “light sauce of button, cremini and portobello mushrooms; prosciutto; cream; and white wine.” They apparently neglected to include in this list whatever magic powder the chef adds to make this dish so delectable. Perhaps revealing the secret was prohibited in his pact with the devil. The mushrooms are terrific, and the prosciutto is good enough to eat on its own. Many white sauces are far too rich and heavy, but this one is light and airy, which enabled me to eat almost all of it. Don’t miss this dish.
Prices are a bit steep and rise quickly when you start looking at the meat and fish dishes ($22-$28). Portions, however, are quite generous, and I will be impressed if you leave hungry. There are always a number of daily specials, and the printed menu is subject to change based on the availability of fresh ingredients. In addition, Basta plans to change its menu seasonally and may eventually expand it to include other regions of Italy.
On my visit, the wait staff was friendly, helpful and efficient, and I have been told that the chef will sometimes come out and chat up the customers.
Basta is Italian for “enough,” but Basta Trattoria is more than enough. It’s a little too expensive for the usual Thursday night meal with friends, but it’s perfect for a dinner with family or a date. Upscale but unpretentious, Basta surpasses Scoozi and La Piazza, finally providing downtown with a respectable Italian restaurant.
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