Where to Dine: Basta Pasta

zandy mangold

Charles Masson, beloved impresario of La Grenouille for 35 years, on his favorite restaurant in New York.

What is your favorite New York restaurant?” Whether answered diplomatically or not, it’s a tough question. I would rather discuss who might be one of my favorite restaurateurs. Those whom I appreciate and admire are numerous; more than this page allows. But there is one quiet gentleman I like to visit.

Toshi Suzuki has owned Basta Pasta for 24 years. Such a span is no small feat in this town. Thriving under the radar makes him a rarity; operating an Italian restaurant staffed by a mostly Japanese crew singles him out.

Italian and Japanese culinary parallels become beautifully evident here. Both love ingredients prepared simply. I, too, am fond of straightforward dishes: the perfect egg, no distractions please. Camouflaged cuisine has never spoken to me. I like honest food.

At Basta Pasta, unscripted amuse-bouches are followed by antipasti dishes such as bagna cauda: cold raw vegetables—carrots, red peppers, asparagus, cauliflower—paired with warm anchovy sauce, which is not too creamy or too fishy. Many may think, What’s the big deal? But it’s as cleansing as starting dinner with a glass of dry sherry.

A subtle dish like the seasonal mushroom broth with an egg is as delicate as truffles with eggs. The spaghetti con prosciutto e Parmigiano, prepared tableside with a Parmesan wheel, is a favorite, as is the spaghetti con uova di pesce—the fish roe provides crunchy texture, and shiso leaves add sweetness. The dessert I gravitate toward is blancmange; its white, custard-like appearance is plain, but the dolce itself is ever so gratifying.

Some say it takes time to warm up to Suzuki’s utilitarian decor. A large window gives onto a rectangular space with conservative furniture. White tablecloths are topped with white sheets of paper, and white walls exhibit art. Suzuki’s choice of National Geographic maps in the restrooms gives you pause, not just to remind you where, precisely, Zanzibar is but to prove how every bit of his restaurant is designed with his personal twist.

I realize it’s hard to dazzle diners with sim­plicity, so I’m glad Suzuki has not only suc­ceeded but is also expanding: He just opened Bar B (84 Seventh Ave.; 212-229-1888), a standing-room-only wine bar in Manhattan’s Chelsea. In a world of restaurants falling prey to anonymous, standardized corporate formulas, it’s nice to know that Suzuki can be counted on for an original feast time and time again.

Basta Pasta is at 37 W. 17th St.; 212-366-0888. Charles Masson recently joined New York’s Baccarat Hotel and Residences as general manager of its restaurant and bars.