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Persnickety Pasta Eaters

In this week's "food fight" we compare pasta from three West County restaurants.

Pasta may seem like an easy dish to make, but there are a few key things you must do to make it great. Use a large enough pot for cooking the pasta so it does not stick together. Salt the water (about 2 teaspoons for a gallon of water). Salt adds flavor to the pasta itself. If the pasta is bland, then it won't matter how flavorful your sauce is. Cook the pasta al dente, which means to the tooth—basically, don't turn it to mush. I chose different sauces and pastas. It was interesting to see how each restaurant crafted its dish.

14007 Manchester Rd., Manchester

My second visit to The Pasta House (the first one was for the eggplant food fight) was somewhat different. People filled several tables, and there was a nice hum of activity. I ordered the spaghetti bolognese, a thin spaghetti with meat sauce, hoping to get something savory and hearty in flavor. The generous portion of pasta was cooked properly. However, the sauce was too sweet, even as a bolognese. This seems to be a theme in many restaurants that serve a tomato-based sauce. The zest, tang and spice in a tomato sauce is what makes it good. The meal was served with rolls and a house salad, which was a good price for $9.99.

The good: The generous portion of pasta was cooked well.

The bad: The sauce was too sweet.

127 Hilltown Village Ctr., Chesterfield

The Sicilian owners hit the mark again with their gnocchi pesto marinara—a homemade potato dumpling in a basil pesto sauce and a dollop of marinara sauce. The trick to making light and airy gnocchi is not adding too much flour and not overmixing the dough, which would make it heavy and sticky. The gnocchi at Gianfabio's was extremely tender, better than the gnocchi we served at The Four Seasons Mexico (when I worked there). The fresh herbs from the restaurant garden were used to make the basil pesto and marinara sauce. The garlic, herbs and seasonings came through well in the sauce. The portion was a little small for $11.99, but delicious.

The good: The gnocchi was tender and light. The sauces were fresh, savory and zesty.

The bad: A larger portion would have been better.

100 Holloway Rd., Ballwin

Candicci's Elizabetta Con Broccoli dish was served with cavatappi pasta, fresh broccoli and mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, cream sauce and a little bit of marinara sauce. The pasta was served with a house salad for $7.99, quite a reasonable price. The pasta was cooked properly, however, a larger cut and more broccoli and mushrooms would have added texture and flavor. Also, there was not a hint of marninara sauce in the dish (not necessarily a bad thing). In fact, I forgot it was one of the ingredients until I looked back at my notes. The creamy part of the sauce was very inviting, really delicious. The freshly grated cheese added a nice element to the overall dish.

The good: The creamy sauce and Parmesan cheese were delightful.

The bad: The cut and portion of vegetables were lacking.

The winner: Gianfabio's Italian Café wins for the excellent technique in making the gnocchi and amazing flavor in the sauce.

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