The Return of Pasta Nostra
Bruculino was supposed to be a seven-year swansong for a chef whose prior career had been somewhat limited to pasta. After the seven years I would retire. At Bruculino I’d be able to express a greater range of cooking interests than I had at Pasta Nostra.
In August Bruculino celebrated its sixth birthday. Though I’d like to stay for the full seven, I don’t think I can. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since opening day, some of it sparkling-clear, some murky, and some just dark as dirt. There were those who blessed the new place on sight, understanding what it took to bring it to fruition and appreciating its every painstaking detail. There were others who cried about every little thing that was different from Pasta Nostra (our former restaurant for those who don’t know) and who made of themselves genuine pains in the ass. And there were those who just came out to wreck the place--dark souls bent on whatever it is they do down there with the Devil. I don’t have to say “damn them” as that’s already done, but their malevolence is making a mess of our entire society, not just my little restaurant. Having latched on to Social Media, like barnacles on the bottom of a boat, it looks like they’ve found their métier--the perfect bludgeon for destroying what and who are good in the world without the onus of having committed a crime.
The tumultuous reception Bruculino received took its toll. Among those of us who had built it, it was said, only half-jokingly, that the place was cursed, that there was a witch casting darkness and misfortune upon us. Indeed, at times it did take on a story-book sensibility, as if it weren’t real and at the same time more than real. Unpleasant characters appeared and presented surreal situations that were not easy to deal with. Negativity and disappointment preyed on us. We lost a partner and a would-be partner and others who were close as well. Tension among the crew was constant. It was, in a word, awful. And all for a restaurant! When I look back I wonder why we even stayed—those of us who did.
The money, I guess. We’d put so much money in that it was hard to walk away. Over a million dollars, plus another 200K that our landlord sunk into it. And the dream. The dream of a happy place where people enjoyed a level of quality and warmth unknown in these parts.
The money is gone; that’s that. No use crying about it. But the happiness? That’s another story. And worth crying about. What has become of us, I wonder, as my career winds down? Was I dreaming, or did we used to be different? Things seem to have gone off the rails. Human beings, the mud that sat up and looked around, as Vonnegut called us, experience a longing for virtue, for that simple purity we knew before we reached out for the brass ring, but it seems the sheer weight of our awareness undoes us. The possession of consciousness weighs heavy. We were animals, after all, and free of that burden, free of having to know much. And not necessarily designed to know much either. As we now see, it’s not easy to be conscious. But what are we to do? We can’t send it back, can we? There is no narrative that offers that option, as far as I know. In all the fairy tales, that never gets to happen.
When I opened Pasta Nostra in 1984 it was joyously received. As Dylan Thomas wrote, “it was Adam and maiden, The sky gathered again, And the sun grew round that very day.” Surely there were dark characters back then as well, but they were given short shrift. The tales are full of them, and of how the chef drove them away lest they ruin things for the others. Nowadays they are given a bully-pulpit via Social Media and the protection of our institutions. We seem to have become so unsure of ourselves that we cannot be unkind even to what is toxic.
I never expected anything from Pasta Nostra other than to be able to make a living sharing with others the food I loved to cook for myself and those close to me. Ditto for Bruculino. That Pasta Nostra would become a well-known place was never part of the plan. That it could be famous seemed beyond the pale—foolish and not even worth talking about. A few months after we opened (lunch only) a review in the Times brought lines of people to our door—a bit of fame didn’t seem so bad. But when I saw how it warped others I began to shy away. By 1992 or so, when I saw how shallow the fame-game was, I called it off completely. No more reviews, no more critics, no more interviews, no more press. Patricia Brooks, the New Canaan resident who was the Times critic, never forgave me and, years later, gave an apocryphal account of what I’d told her. Unfortunately, she didn’t understand.
Thereafter, Pasta Nostra made its way in the world without the benefit of the ladies and gentlemen of the press. As the thirty-year mark loomed, I began to think of retirement. I never expected to do anything for that long anyway, but as I had become good at it, I also dreamed of having a better place where I might expand my repertory and cook for a few more years. Ecco! That’s how we got Bruculino. But now it’s done. And time to move on.
As my thoughts turned away from Bruculino I considered how my partners and employees might continue to make a living. The most exciting prospect seemed a full return to the original Pasta Nostra concept of a pasta and food market, with limited dining-in capacity. To this end I purchased four refrigerated cases, had a new ravioli machine built for us in Italy, and lined up some importers of Italian food products the like of which have never been seen here in CT. But then I realized that it was another Chef Joe adventure all over again, that organizing and opening and running a store would ensnare me yet again. (Even more so as I have no one able to run it day to day). Right now, therefore, we cannot do it.
But what we can do, and do very well, even without my daily presence, is to go back to Pasta Nostra as it was just before it closed—the Pasta Nostra that served a simple ala carte menu of Antipasti and Pasta five nights a week.
For the moment then, the dining room will stay; the market plan is stalled. For one thing, to make it happen, we would need a highly motivated and food-talented market manager to come on board. So far, in the current labor crunch, that person has not materialized. If you know of, tell ‘em to apply within.
Going forward, Bruculino will serve its last meal on Sunday, September 19.
We reopen on Friday the 24th as Pasta Nostra. We will offer the same pasta driven menu we did from 1984 until 2015—a menu with which my current crew is well versed and exceptionally good at.
The new Pasta Nostra will also offer fresh pasta, fresh ravioli, sauces, cheeses, sausages, salami, prosciutto, olives, olive oils, vinegars, roasted peppers, mozzarella, cooked trays of lasagna, baked ziti, cannelloni, etc, etc. If you avail yourselves of these offerings, if you put us on your shopping circuits, and if you come and dine with us once in a while, Pasta Nostra and my partners will have a chance. If you don’t then they too will be gone.
I will continue as administrator, wine buyer, and food consultant.
Thank you for your appreciation. I never thought I’d get to the end of this, letter? career? :)
Joe Bruno, chef
Pasta Nostra Inc
20 N Main St
Norwalk, CT. 06854
as soon as we can get a new site up and running
we will be at