The art of pasta at La Tavola
The previous versions of La Tavola were pasta-centric, sure, but Rick Lopez has only fully realized the concept with the third incarnation of his Italian restaurant, now in Grandview. The space is homier, with quirky wallpaper and an open kitchen. The menu is more concise, spruced by daily specials, such as spicy Octopus Fra Diavolo, and anchored by Lopez's signature baked potato gnocchi, based on his grandma Mary's recipe. He serves it three ways: with marinara, butter and parm or baked with white wine, cheese and veggies.
"It's the journey of my life, this restaurant," he says. "When I was younger, I tried to stretch boundaries, tried to do new things. Pasta is my go-to. I always come back to it. It's what I love to do, and it's probably what I do best." latavolagrandview.com
Tools from the Old World
Chitarra: Pasta alla chitarra originates from the Abruzzo region of south-central Italy and, as the name suggests, means "guitar pasta." "It looks like a little box with strings, like a lute," Lopez says of the device. "You put flattened pasta on top, push it through the strings with a pasta roller, cutting it, and it falls through and comes out underneath." He uses the chitarra when making capellini- or angel hair-style pasta.
Garganelli board: Garganelli-style pasta is shaped and textured with deep grooves from its namesake board. "You cut little diamonds of pasta real thin, wrap them around a dial and slide that across the board with your hands," Lopez says of the process. "I would probably spend five hours making five orders. It's very time-consuming, but the payoff is great." In addition to garganelli tubes, this technique can also texturize orecchiette and gnocchi. It originates from the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy.
Mary Lopez: "She would take over our dining room table with pastas she'd make and lay out to dry-fettuccine, thin spaghetti, ravioli. I just remember her and her rolling pins, and I actually have one of them in the kitchen at La Tavola. I use it every day. It's the perfect size for the chitarra."
Gina DeMarco: "I really got the cooking bug from her, my mom's mom. Gnocchi was her thing. She did it differently than other people. She would bake the potatoes before ricing them, just allowing them to dry so as to not get too heavy. I would help her at her house with big family meals and family functions."
Secrets to La Tavola's pasta
Lopez uses Plugra high-fat butter in all of his pasta dishes. It contains less water than most table butters, he says, making it creamier and bolder in flavor and aroma.
Lopez makes his own marinara sauce with imported tomatoes, olive oil and a mix of finely ground carrots, celery, onion and garlic. "It's a Southern Italian-style sauce," he says. "The idea is that it's a 'mariner's sauce.' With no meat, you could take it out to sea for a week, and it'd be fine."