Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to the Greenpoint-Williamsburg border for plates full of pasta.
A contemporary, cheerful-looking, counter-service pasta place seems like it would be a sure winner in today's fast-casual climate, but it's been a surprisingly difficult nut to crack, with even well-pedigreed restaurants like The Sosta and Pasta Flyer failing to hang around for much longer than a year. Thankfully for those of us who enjoy eating a quick plate of good macaroni in pleasant surroundings, people haven't yet given up the concept. And so we have a winning new spot near the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border, Forma Pasta Factory.
Forma takes over that awkward space last held by Pretty Southern, about two doors down from Five Leaves, but the new tenants, with a design by SZProjects, have completely redone the place—both decor and layout—to make it much brighter, friendlier, and more comfortable. There are stools looking out onto Bedford Avenue and in front of tall tables and counters running all the way to the back dining area, which seats about twelve and dead-ends into a cute little nook. Three skylights keep it from feeling dim back here, as does the abundant plant life and fresh cut flowers.
Taking up about half of the front room at Forma is the ordering counter, an open kitchen, and a pasta machine cranking out a half dozen different shapes and sizes. There's a small shelving unit with "provisions" for sale up near the door—canned tomatoes, Maldon salt, anchovy tins—which, if nothing else, gives the place a homey feel upon entering. You tell one of the amiable staffers what you want, then go find a place to sit with your tray and identifying number flag, and someone will bring you your food. You're responsible for clearing your dishes and refilling your water glass.
(Scott Lynch / Gothamist)
The chef here is Amit Rabinovich, who learned about noodles at Babbo and at Cesare Casella's Salumeria Rosi, and the menu features six pasta classics as well as a couple of daily specials. This isn't a build-a-bowl situation; all of the dishes are fully composed, and vegetable sides, snacks, salads, desserts, wine, and beer are also available. It's a solid lineup, and the pasta itself has a lot flavor (thanks in part, apparently, to the "finest, world-renowned water that is New York City tap"), flash-boiled to order, cooked al dente of course. It can be a little gummy, but for the most part Rabinovich and company nail it.
I had four pasta dishes over two dinners here last weekend, and all were nicely balanced and thoroughly satisfying. If it's Sunday, get the Lasagna, with its layers of ground meats, tomato sauce, and, in a bold gambit that pays off, tender, thinly sliced eggplant. The roof of the stack is fried to a crisp, adding a textural bonus. The garlic bread crumbs scattered about the Tagliatelle Scampi play a similar role, though in this case also bringing considerable flavor. And the shrimp here is ample, plump, and sweet.
The sausage is ground and gamey in the creamy Pipette Ragu (the fat macaroni in this dish is the chewiest of the varieties I tried, in a good way). Spaghetti Pomodoro is bright and thick but definitely splurge and add a half dozen meatballs for three bucks, as they add some necessary earthiness to the dish. The two sides I tried were both successful, if portioned somewhat meagerly. The Roasted Asparagus reminded me of summer, with tender stalks standing up to the sweet-and-sour sauce and hot chilis; and capers, pine nuts, and lemon enliven the slightly-charred Cauliflower florets. Desserts are pre-packaged, grab-n-go style, and the Budino (chocolate pudding with a pool of salted caramel) was fine, delivering on its cold and sugary promise.
Fingers crossed Forma Pasta catches on here along the bustling north end of Bedford Avenue. If you're around, stop in for some good food, made by friendly people, in an agreeable setting.
Forma Pasta Factory is located at 14 Bedford Avenue, between Lorimer Street and Manhattan Avenue, and is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. Closed Mondays (718-349-2009; formapasta.com)