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Using Your Noodle to Be in the Know About Pasta Places

August 06, 1992|KITTY MORSE | Kitty Morse is a writer and cookbook author living in Vista.

Forget noodles. You'd better say pasta instead, for noodles have gone upscale, thanks to the surge in popularity of authentic Italian cuisine. Consumers are not only acquiring an expanded Italian vocabulary, but also learning to differentiate fettucini from farfalle, among dozens of pasta varieties. Several Italian markets in North County cater to this new generation of pasta cognoscenti. Here are some of them:

The Italian Corner

2216 El Camino Real, Oceanside (north of Love's barbecue). 757-2331. Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Sunday. Special orders require 48 hours notice. Nino Russo owns and operates The Italian Corner with the help of his three daughters, Rosalie, Anna-Maria and Debora. "My daughters have been in the restaurant business almost ever since they were born," says the native of Sicily. The restaurateur operated Italian establishments in New Jersey and Missouri before settling in Oceanside. He plunged head-on into manufacturing fresh pasta four years ago. "It's interesting and challenging," says Russo, of his gourmet pasta. "I'm from the Old Country, and I'm against anything that's not fresh." He uses 100% durum wheat semolina and farm-fresh eggs for his pastas. The Italian Corner manufactures hundreds of pounds of fresh pasta every week, for retail sale, and for a variety of wholesale accounts.

The pasta comes in a rainbow of colors and flavors from roasted red pepper to squid ink. "We were even asked to make frijole fettucine once," says the North County businessman with a laugh.

The long, white pastas include fettucine and linguine, flat pappardelle, and thread-like capellini, or angel hair ($2.35 a pound). More elegant, multi-colored versions include saffron-tinted pasta, or pasta with fresh basil specks ($2.75 a pound). The exotic black pasta uses squid ink for color. Russo sometimes even tints lasagna sheets in the same manner, although the classic white or spinach-flavored strips are the ones that enter in his vegetarian and meat-filled lasagna dishes.

With the long comes the short of it. In this case, fusilli, shells, ziti or their close relative, strascinati. "They look like ziti and are split open on one side, so as to better retain the pasta sauce," says Russo.

Some pasta comes stuffed with chicken, veal, crab or lobster meat. In the deli's refrigerated case, neat little packages of curled tortellini ($3.99/lb. for cheese, and $4.25/lb. for meat) are ready to be taken home. So are plump, fresh-mushroom, and chicken and spinach ravioli ($4.25/lb.) The frozen, crepe-like cannelloni ($4.50/lb.) attracts customers from far and wide, as does the patate gnocchi ($2.25/lb.). Russo also bakes his own focaccia, as well as casareccio, a crusty, round bread typical of Sicily.

The Pasta Experience

7740 El Camino Real, Carlsbad. 942-0204. La Costa location (in old Vons Shopping Center) Monday to Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Closed Sunday. New Del Mar location, 2873 El Camino Real, Del Mar, 792-6365. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The diminutive store nestled in the heart of the old Vons shopping center in La Costa was among the first in the area to ride the tidal wave of fresh pasta. Ten years later, the establishment is still a beehive of activity. Mary Ann Meredick owns the pasta store with her partners Richard Mickle, who was the opening chef of the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel, and Jeff Sladicka, who counts two Academy Awards dinners among his many accomplishments.

Meredick once managed a 350-seat restaurant in Pennsylvania, and now handles all catering and sales at the Pasta Experience, while her two partners concentrate on food production and recipe design. Glancing at the extensive menu reveals how the three partners have expanded beyond the realm of pasta-making. "We're on the road to success," says Meredick, pointing to the opening of a second Pasta Experience in Del Mar.

The Pasta Experience caters to pasta lovers with cosmopolitan tastes. The selection of 20 pasta salads includes Szechuan Chicken Salad ($5.95/lb.). Shrimp Curry Pasta ($6.30 a lb.) and a salute to local produce, the San Diego Vegetable ($5.75/lb.). A dozen freshly made sauces dot the weekly menu, to accompany anything from spirale to mostaccioli (both $2.50/lb.) and the partners' newest addition: Specialty Spa Pasta ($3/lb.) made with egg whites only. For this, the three partners let their imaginations run wild. "Spa pasta" flavors include tri-color vegetable fusilli, tomato Jalapeno, black bean, and cilantro chili, among others.

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