Once again, the local restaurant scene is heating up with all kinds of openings and reopenings. One of the most impressive reopenings is Basta in the Pawtuxet Village section of Cranston. This ristorante Italiano has been quietly serving classic dishes such as Vitello Saltimbocca since 1989. Back then, you never heard too much about Basta, but it had a loyal following of people who appreciated authentic Italian cuisine. Last year, the restaurant shut down for a total renovation, reopening this past February.
Arriving early for dinner on a cool spring evening, we spotted a major change in the restaurant’s façade with its new sleek signage. Stepping inside, we could see the total transformation: The tired look of the old Basta is gone, replaced by a vibrant, happening interior with an energetic staff. The color scheme is a rich brown and deep red, with oversized black-and-white photos of Italian street scenes on the walls. There’s a variety of seating options, from intimate two-tops to swanky curved booths. Even on the Wednesday night we stopped in, every table was occupied by 7pm, and the bar area was full of old and new customers. It looks like the new Basta is already a success.
We were seated in the middle of all the action. A bread basket arrived, holding crusty Italian bread and a small tub of garlic butter. It was all we could do not to overindulge as we studied the menu and then awaited our four courses of food.
I urge you to start off the Fonduta ($9), one of the ﬁnest appetizers I’ve ever had. This northern Italian version of the classic Swiss fondue is an absolutely delicious mix of melted fontina cheese, Marsala wine, bits of soppressata and grape tomatoes cut in half. If I didn’t have to share this dish with my beloved dining companion, it could have served as my dinner along with a glass of Italian chardonnay.
Another excellent appetizer is the Polpette al Forno ($12), a half-dozen or so good-sized meatballs topped with a little marinara, aged parmigiano and fresh basil with golden crostini on the side.
Next we shared one of the 11 pasta dishes on the menu – the Ravioli Genovese ($14). Five of the pasta selections are made on the premises; the others are made with pasta imported from Italy. The ravioli is one of the pastas made in house. The centers of his ravioli were tender, and the crimped edges were more al dente – a pleasing mix of textures. Each pillow of pasta was stuffed with seasoned ricotta, and the generous serving came to us in a large soup bowl with plenty of pesto for the sauce. I felt it needed just a dash of salt. Silver salt and pepper mills are brought to the table upon request.
For the main course, we ordered two of the more expensive entrees on the menu: Costoletta alla Milanese ($32) and Bistecca alla Fiorentina ($33). Costoletta is one of the most famous dishes of Milan: I ﬁnd it hard to pass up the chance to dine on the pounded, breaded veal chop with the bone left in place, fried in butter and served with a splash of fresh lemon. At Basta, it is generously topped with peppery arugula, almost transparent slivers of onion, and grape tomatoes.
While my main course came from Milan, Brian’s Bistecca alla Fiorentina originated in Florence. This American version of the Italian classic consisted of a 14-ounce ribeye from Creekstone Farms, known for their all-natural meats. The grilled steak had been rubbed with rosemary, roasted garlic and sea salt. Brian approved of his large steak, which was served with delicious mashed potatoes and a sautéed medley of carrots and yellow squash. I was allowed a bite of the steak, and again I felt it needed just a sprinkling of salt.
During dinner, I noticed one corner of the new Basta is an open pizza station with a huge wood-burning oven, which I learned was an MG Forni imported from Naples. Capable of reaching 1000 degrees, that beautifully tiled oven can produce a historically correct pizza in less than 90 seconds; that is, a pizza made with products from the Campania region of Italy, including San Marzano tomatoes, Caputo “00” ﬂour, fresh mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Every table around us had ordered a pizza or two, and so did we but we took our garlicky Vongole Pizza. ($15) We heard people raving about the crust, and we have to agree – light and airy and chewy, all at the same time, with premium toppings.
Extraordinary dinners such as this one seem incomplete without dessert ($8 each) so we savored the end of our meal with the Cheesecake topped with Amarena Cherries and the Cannoli. I can’t resist anything topped with the preserved cherries grown in Bologna and Modena, and they were just what the ultra-creamy cheesecake needed. The three petite cannoli were delightful: each was slightly different with the delicate tubes of pastry dipped in chocolate, crushed pistachio nuts and studded with mini-morsels of dark chocolate.
Italian aﬁcionados will be happy that Basta has been brought into the 21st century while keeping tradition alive. In Italian, Basta means enough, but here it really means more – more of all things good, all things Italian.