We had yet to experience the University area of “Dinkytown,” so relying on multiple recommendations for the college-town hot spot, we made date-night reservations at Loring Pasta Bar. Before even scanning the menu or tasting a bite, I was a fan the minute we arrived. Though the ambiance is difficult to accurately describe, it ranks as the favorite among all the spots we’ve hit so far.
Dim and eclectic, we crossed wooden floorboards to follow the hostess to our table in the main dining area and plopped into oversized wicker chairs. Retro fans spun from the high ceilings, tall taper candles lit each table, random items decorated the walls, and large windows and potted plants lined an entire side of the restaurant. Live music entertained us from a stage near the center of the room, and a funky staircase brought staff and patrons between the main dining floor and the overlooking second level.
As we studied the menu, a waiter plopped a basket of sweet, cake-like bread and herb butter onto our heavy, woven tablecloth. Loring Pasta Bar’s appetizer selection is small and unimpressive – as is the dessert menu – but the complementary starter we savored with our wine (nix the house red and spend the extra bucks to get something worth drinking!) was enough to hold us until the entrees arrived. We started off on the right foot, sharing the Salade Sauvage. Though the large salad is listed as a single appetizer plate, the kitchen happily offered to split it for us without a fee. Crisp greens and cabbage sat under raisins, pear slices, bleu cheese crumbles and candied walnuts, all sprinkled with a light, citrus dressing. The bleu cheese helping was not for the fainthearted, so on-the-fence fans: order cautiously!
For a self-proclaimed pasta spot, we were surprised at the small listing of pasta dishes. The featured plates were all equally tempting, but we expected to see a larger variety of noodles, mix-ins and sauces. But, the option of ordering a half-plate serving for half the price won us over. Overflowing portions are often the major downfall of pasta joints, but the perfect-sized plates let us bypass an evening in a carb-induced stupor.
Jim’s Portabella Ravioli tucked mushrooms inside a homemade ravioli shell, and topped the pockets with strips of ham, tomato-corn salsa and a thin alfredo sauce. Though the pasta itself was bland and somewhat overcooked, the light vegetables and flavors turned the dish into a pleasant entrée on a muggy summer evening. The Vegetarian Orzo was even better. The thick, rice-like pasta sat underneath pieces of grilled asparagus, halved cherry tomatoes and grilled artichoke hearts. Fresh and tangy, the meatless dish didn’t short on vegetables and the orzo was more of a pleasant accompaniment than a starch aiming to steal the show.
When the dessert menu failed to entice us, we turned to the cocktail list and weren’t disappointed. To tough Key Lime Martini critics, the Loring Pasta version hit the mark and the Snowplow (a twist on a traditional White Russian) was almost too delicious to simply sip.
Overall, service was standard – not quick or overly friendly, but efficient enough to get the job done without drawing our attention to the at-times inattentive staff. The food was enjoyable and the ambiance alone was enough to raise its rating to full four spades. We Huskers may never be true Gopher fans, but Loring Pasta Bar will be reason enough to return to maroon and gold territory.
RATING (out of 5 ♠♠♠♠♠)
Menu Selection: ♠♠1/2
Food Taste & Presentation: ♠♠♠1/2
COMPLETE EXPERIENCE: ♠♠♠♠
Total bill, including tip: $72