If you have been looking for phenomenal, handmade pasta in Saigon, but have turned up short, bow down to your new best friend Pasta Fresca. Elijah Ferrian gorges in reverence. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Federico Pinzi, head chef, and Valerio Di Veglia, operations manager, opened Pasta Fresca in July. The idea was to create a small, intimate place in which to share their passion for Italian cuisine. Specifically handmade pasta accompanied by a cast of minimalist side dishes designed to evoke memories of their home.
“We are long time friends,” Di Veglia says. “We came from the same town south of Tuscany. Federico was working all over the world, and then we decided to work together. I was running my own business in Italy, but we grew tired, and so we met up in Singapore. We decided to open a business in Vietnam, because the market is already oversaturated there.”
As soon as you walk up to their location, a street-level, open-kitchen restaurant with just over 20 seats, you get the feeling that someone has found a way to make Italian food in a uniquely Vietnamese setting.
Crispy arancini with wasabi mayo (VND70,000), a fresh burrata salad resting on diced tomato and balsamic vinegar (VND175,000), and their ‘choose your own adventure’ selection of pastas makes this spot easy to love
One understands quickly, while grabbing a stool at the walk-up ‘chef’s bar’, that there is something special going on here. It’s small, but people are starting to notice.
“Business has picked up,” says Pinzi. “People love the freshness of our handmade pasta, and eating it right on the street. A lot of places can be too formal for the level of food we offer. We want to do something simple for the street, but our style. It’s a new concept.”
The process of choosing pasta is fun. You pick a pasta style, and a sauce style, and then Federico makes it in front of you. Everything is made in-house.
So, for example, you select pumpkin cappelletti (VND70,000), and pair it with an Italian classic ragu (VND57,000), or a creamy mushroom sauce (VND85,000). The end product is quite unbelievable given the price.
The cappelletti stuffed with sweet-savoury roasted pumpkin, emitting waves of autumnal sage flavour really shines. Pair it with any of the sauces, and it’s a hit.
The arancini hits an intriguing fusion note. Wasabi intermingling with Italy? What is happening?
They have a full selection of glass and bottle wines, draft and bottled beer and cider, and they also do call-ahead takeout. Their take-away business is really taking off, and they have a separate location where they do all of the prep, so that they can keep up with the demand.
The two owners are personable, show great service and attentiveness to guests, and are frankly just fun to conversate with – when they’re not rightfully slammed with customers.
Pasta made by hand is an artform, and in order to keep quality and consistency up, there’s a lot of man hours that go into that process. Leave it to a couple of proud Italians to keep it authentic.