PASTA RICA (285 Augusta, at Oxford, 416-850-8949) First-time restaurateur and chef Cesar Sevcik likes to think of his tiny Kensington take-away as a hot dog stand with a roof that sells all-inclusive meals -- pasta with sauce, salad and bread -- for less than seven bucks. Or eat in from styrofoam containers with plastic forks in a cute space that once housed mod spot Spitfire Sound. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes and a mineral water. Open Tuesday to Sunday noon to 7 pm. Closed Monday. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, one step to narrow washrooms. Rating: NNN
Is there a less equipped kitchen in Toronto than Pasta Rica's, the recently opened noodle noshery at the top of Kensington Market?With only an electric range and a minuscule microwave, owner-chef Cesar Sevcik pulls off the near impossible by producing straightforward but surprisingly tasty pasta dinners complete with salad for under seven bucks.
And though his lineup might be as limited as his gear, the first-time restaurateur offers more than just meal deals for a major steal. Formerly the home of the short-lived mod revival coffeehouse Spitfire Sound, this very funky space retains much of its groovy decor -- turquoise/lime-green op-art walls, a trio of tight-fit burnt-orange booths and a glass garage door that opens to the streetscape.
But now, instead of 60s Brit pop, radio jazz provides the sonic backdrop.
A former corporate caterer, Venezuela-born Sevcik modestly sees his take-away trat as "a hot dog stand with a roof," but Pasta Rica is far from fast food. His deliciously crafted sauces -- pulverized red pepper purée with mid-strength Gorgonzola, woodsy minced porcini mushrooms with sun-dried tomato, crumbled hot Italian sausage in light dill cream -- are the stuff of far pricier menus. They're added at the last minute to a choice of cooked-to-order penne, fusilli or long macaroni-like spirals -- cook calls them "Scoobidoos" -- before being doused with Parmesan.
That they're tagged at $6.74 -- complete with a first-rate market salad of arugula, dandelion and radicchio in a very good balsamic and maple syrup vinaigrette and sided with slices of spongy Portuguese padas -- is astounding. This same noodle-and-salad combo with plain basil pesto will set cheapskates back all of $5, while those with deep pockets might want to splurge for an additional grilled chicken breast ($2.25) or meat-loaf-like meatballs (75 cents each). Along with sweet tomato sauce and melted Jack, a trio of these same wonderful beefeaters appear in Pasta Rica's meatball sandwich ($4.13).
But how does Sevcik deliver quality dinners for only $7? Sure, corners are cut. Since everything's takeout and self-serve, expect styrofoam containers and plastic forks if you choose to dine in. Either way, save room for the lovely lemon triangles ($1.50) on buttery confectioners'-dusted shortcake. While only fizzy water and Power Puff Girl ($1.15) drinks are currently on offer, caps and lattes will be available once he figures out how to work the Gaggia espresso machine left behind by the previous crew.
"There's a lot of fiddling involved," notes Sevcik.