The D.C. Pasta Co. (Strongsville, OH)

For our last dinner in the Cleveland area, we were looking for a lighter dinner (have you seen all hot dogs, steaks, and pork products I consumed in the last few entries?), and as a result, we decided to check out a relative newcomer on the Cleveland scene, D.C. Pasta Co. in Strongsville, OH. First of all, the D.C. Pasta Co. name comes not from our nation’s capital, but from the owners’ initials, D.C. is the combined effort of Ohio chef Dante Boccuzzi (primarily known for his “Dante” and “d.b.a” restaurants), and Carmela del Busso (known for “Oggi”), giving the place it’s initials. D.C., situated in a small strip mall complex in Strongsville, is designed to be a fairly casual Italian place featuring house made pasta.

Reflecting this approach, the menu at D.C. is relatively simple, fitting on a single sheet of paper, and the menu focuses primarily on a list of eight pasta dishes made with their in-house pasta, as well as a reasonable assortment of Italian starters, cheese, salumi, and a few secondi. But really, it’s primarily about the pasta, with each dish being available in three sizes ranging from “Appetizer” up to “Entree”. This allows (and the staff encourages) mixing and matching of these to make up the dinner you want. Add in a reasonably good wine list (with a lot of good wines in the $30 range), and it looked encouraging enough.

So, after looking over the menu, we ordered up some polenta and some salumi to start, and both arrived relatively quickly. The polenta was a rather pleasant start to the meal, being perfectly cooked to my preferences with a creamy texture with just a little bit of tooth to it, I enjoyed this, and it showed that someone in the kitchen was paying attention. For the salumi, we got some sopressata and some prosciutto, both of which were nicely done as well.

For the main course, we both decided to avail ourselves of the “plate full of appetizers” approach recommended by the waitstaff. I opted for a plate with two meatballs (lamb and pork), an appetizer-sized Bucatini con Salsa Di Agnello (bucatini with lamb and basil), and and appetizer-sized Cavatelli con Patate Dolci (Cavatelli in Sweet Potato Sauce).

First, lets talk about where this dinner worked really well; the pasta at D.C. Pasta lives up to it’s namesake, being perfectly prepared and cooked fresh pasta, with just enough firmness. This wasn’t your typical “pasta as an afterthought” that so many restaurants are guilty of, but proper noodles. And the Bucatini in particular had a rich lamb ragù with some flavorful basil notes on top. Combine that with the meatballs, of which both flavors were nicely seasoned and cooked with just the right amount of crispiness, and they’ve got some good concepts here. The Cavatelli with sweet potatoes was a nice concept, and the cavatelli itself also perfectly cooked, but this was where D.C. started to show their weakness, since this dish was a bit oversauced. I could see where they were going with this, but honestly, this would have been a much better dish with half the sauce.

Carol’s results were similar, she opted for a similar mix, with two meatball (like me, she went for lamb and pork), Strozzapretti di Barbabietole (strozzapretti with beets), Linguine alla Carbonara, and some gnochetti. The gnochetti and strozzapretti where both quite good, showing the same overall level of pasta quality, and a decent sauce, and we enjoyed both, but the linguine was much like my cavatelli, practically swimming in sauce that was heavily loaded with egg and cream. Lightly dressed, and this would be a good dish, but as served, it was entirely too soupy.

While we didn’t get dessert, there was one thing about the dessert menu that stuck out to me: the waitress was quite enthusiastic about dessert, but then quickly mentioned, quite proudly, that aside from the mousse di cioccolato, that most of the other desserts weren’t made by D.C., but instead imported from Italy. This seems strange to me, since I’ve actually had quite a few delicious dessert in Cleveland showcasing the talents of local pastry chefs and local dairy providers, so this seemed a bit off-key to me, like they are missing a good opportunity. Indeed, we ended up passing on dessert.

The other thing I’ll mention about D.C. is that we found the service a little lacking. Drinks and appetizer orders were quickly taken, but while the appetizers quickly arrived from the kitchen, the wine apparently needed 20 minutes to get located and served. Similarly, our appetizers were finished and the plates bussed before our dinner order was taken, and we again had a long wait before some bread appeared, and then after that, finally, our entrees. When they arrived, the items were mixed up between our orders, and one pasta dish was missing altogether, requiring a bit of a shuffle and another trip of the waitress back to the kitchen before things were squared away. I’ll be honest, some of it wasn’t our waitress’s fault, since she had quite a large number of other tables with some very demanding customers, so some of this was just bad luck, and some of it a staffing shortage as well. But in the end, for a place that’s been open almost a year, I generally expect a better level of service, even for a place catering to the “casual” diner.

Don’t get me wrong, however, D.C. Pasta Co. has a lot of potential. Their primary goal is providing quality pasta in a fairly casual environment, and they do that quite well, with a nice menu structure that encourages sharing. The pasta is good, and most of the sauces and meatballs both conceptually sound and decently executed, they just need to refine a few dishes and work on emphasizing service a bit more. Right now, they aren’t on the top of my revisit list (Cleveland has a lot of really great places competing for my limited visits…), but I hope they can take it up a notch.

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