Pasta Beach: Light, Airy and Relaxing, but at a Price

Let’s address the elephant in the cabana. Pasta Beach is a … peculiar name.

Pasta Beach opened its long-awaited Wayland Square location in August 2016 and, for more than a year beforehand, I puzzled at the paper signs covering the upcoming restaurant’s windows: “Pasta Beach.” They weren’t two words I’d ever thought to pair together and I found them mysterious. It was evocative, but I also didn’t think my conjured image of a steaming pile of spaghetti served seaside seemed appetizing. There were two other Pasta Beaches that I could have explored while the Wayland restaurant launched, in the more geographically intuitive locations of Newport and Boston’s Rowe’s Wharf, but good things come to those who wait.

And the pasta at Pasta Beach is very good. Clearly, I’d fixated on the wrong word in the name.

My mother joined me for dinner at 6:30pm on a Tuesday. We were asked if we had reservations (we didn’t) and seated at a high top by the window. The restaurant is deep, but narrow, and by 7:30pm all but four tables were filled. A long, white marbled bar offered additional seating and a view into the largely open kitchen.

Exposed wooden ceiling beams crisscross over the bright, welcoming room, and coral and white striped accent walls mimic the black and white cabana stripes of Pasta Beach’s outside awning. More industrial touches, such as metal drum light fixtures slung from rope or the tin facade of the massive pizza oven, are softened by black and white checked chairs and colorful (admittedly beachy) cushions on the benched seating lining the space’s windows. The bread is served in a yellow and purple checked cloth pouch and, as my mother was quick to point out, set the tone for the rest of our meal.

“This is the test,” she said, taking a bite.

Pasta Beach’s bread is awesome. The salt content is spot-on, it’s crusty, it’s airy, it’s homemade and the restaurant knows they have a hit on their hands. They sell loaves, bakery style, at $8 each for taking home.

Our server, Ashley, explained the chefs hailed from Italy and noted the menu items which could only be found at the Providence location – a haddock dish and six pastas, ranging from lasagna to sugo. She recommended two of the “Classic Pasta Beach” items as her favorites: tagliatelle with asparagus and prosciutto, and the buccatini with tomato sauce, bacon, onions and white wine. I ordered the tagliatelle. My mother went rogue and ordered chicken Milanese.

The issue was this: my mother had been expecting a heavy plate of pasta. She’d liked the idea of a Bolognese, but had eaten out for lunch that day and wasn’t entirely hungry. When our food arrived, however, my tagliatelle was downright dainty. Historically, if I’m ordering pasta, I leave with leftovers, but that wasn’t the case here, and not because the serving was insubstantial. The cream coating the tagliatelle didn’t over-sauce and weigh down the noodle. The asparagus had bite, but not crunch, and even though I was literally eating prosciutto and parmigiano reggiano, nothing about my meal felt heavy or unhealthy. Dangerous.

For my mother’s part, the chicken Milanese was well seasoned, but I could tell she suffered rolling regret at each dish of pasta or pizza served to our neighbors.

Our food arrived so fast (super, duper fast – part of the restaurant’s founding concept is inspired by quick service neighborhood bistros in Italy), and so much of our early conversation was dominated by bread, that my mother and I didn’t get to discuss our feelings on Pasta Beach’s vibe until nearly the end of our meal. We agreed that we both felt comfortable. We liked our server’s relaxed attitude, and we liked the variety of eating Italian in a more casual atmosphere.

We decided the best future tactic for ordering at Pasta Beach would be splitting a pasta, pizza, and salad. This was the most common order we observed, undoubtedly by neighborhood veterans who’d learned to navigate the menu. I have a hard time thinking I’d be able to order anything beside the tagliatelle. (My co-worker has the same issue straying from the lasagna, made with Bolognese and bechamel sauce, and described as “the best lasagna” she’s ever had. Strong words from an Italian from Johnston.)

“I mean, I guess it feels like a vacation,” my mother offered. “You’re paying vacation prices.” She was a bit sour on the $21.75 price tag of her Milanese, served with a heap of arugulabut no side of pasta. She had been prepared by the server that it came a la carte, but still fundamentally disagreed with the ethics of withholding a pasta accompaniment.

Also, she still nursed the sting of Bolognese FOMO. Life’s a beach.

Pasta Beach, 195 Wayland Ave, PVD. Tel: (401)270-0740 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Pasta-Beach-1516213745062627/


Relativity: Brains and Booze – or, How far apart are your Lorentz contractions?)

“It’s 2:18 in the afternoon and you’re drinking whiskey without even making a face.”

Relativity whiskey bottle
Relativity whiskey bottle

Jacqueline Connetti of Edrington Americas, the Innovation and Area Manager for Rhode Island, pours a sample of whiskey from a 10-inch bottle shaped like a mad scientist’s lab beaker. A black label wraps around the bottle, designed like a chalkboard and covered with etchings of vectors, exponents and equations. Inside is 750ml of Relativity Whiskey, the branded “Easy Drinking Whiskey” that Connetti astutely noted hasn’t caused any midday eye tearing.

Traditionally, time mellows alcohol and whiskey has less of a burn the longer it’s aged, taking on wood flavors from its barrel. What separates Relativity from tradition, however, is the ability to time travel through what they call “Compression Aging” technology. Relativity “ages” whiskey 18 years in 40 minutes. It’s whiskeyscience. And right now it’s only available in Rhode Island.

Relativity first arrived in October 2016 and could only be ordered at Aurora, The Eddy, The Dorrance, and Ogie’s. Today, Relativity can be found at more than 20 bars and most Providence liquor stores. The whiskey may not have been developed in the Ocean State, but right now we’re the petri dish.

Relativity was first engineered in a garage in Cincinnati by Brain Brew Distillers, a group of “chemical engineers, whiskey drinkers, and a team that has worked with Edrington Americas to create spirits for many years,” Connetti said. Upon finalizing the methodology, Relativity moved to Boone County Distilling in Kentucky for production and bottling.

There is a second lab for Relativity, Connetti said, and it’s the State of Rhode Island.

“Rhode Island is a small market with a diverse demographic,” she explained the state’s test market status. “Because of the size and the relationships we have, we’re able to learn, pivot, make changes and optimize our spirits in a cost effective way.”

Considering the first “lab” – that fateful Cincinnati garage – endured explosions as Brain Brew worked to get the technique right, our status as test market is likely the more enviable. With the wrinkles ironed out, the aging process is now not only safe, but their web site makes it sound simple: “Basically instead of putting the whiskey in a barrel and waiting, we put the barrel in the whiskey…”

“When you think of how traditional whiskey is made, you would source the oak, create a barrel out of it, char it, and you’d age your whiskey, bourbon, or scotch through that barrel,” Connetti said. “What we do is, instead of putting the liquid into the barrel and leaving it to chance to age, mature and develop, we use a scientifically controlled process to combine our whiskeys with American Oak wood. Our technology mimics the seasons of nature and matures our whiskey through rapid cycles of heat and pressure.”

So, does all of this work? Has Relativity harnessed not only the forces of nature but also convinced whiskey snobs that science can surpass tradition – the latter, incredibly, seeming the more daunting task? They’re trying their best to let whiskey fans make up their own minds. In February and March, Relativity hosted 50 tastings at area bars and liquor stores to give people the chance to experience the whiskey firsthand.

“There are people who want to drink for taste, complexity and quality,” Connetti said. “There are also traditionalists who are deeply rooted, and want to drink for how a whiskey is made. Both are okay,” Connetti said. “There’s no wrong opinion to have about it.”

While Connetti’s personal favorite cocktail is the New Fashioned at The Eddy – an Old Fashioned spin with orange bitters, and the recipe is on the Relativity web site – she still recommends the best introduction to Relativity is a whiskey neat. By first trying the whiskey as is, without ice or a mix, drinkers can get accustomed to the whiskey’s barley qualities and maltiness on the nose, and mouth feel and viscosity from corn. And, truth be told, there really isn’t a need to mix it. There’s a sweetness from wheat. The spiciness in the finish comes from rye.

Rhode Island has become comfortable with culinary innovation. Established incubators, such as Hope & Main in Warren and newer ventures such as the Armory Kitchen at Rooms & Works, show the state’s pioneering spirit when it comes to our foodie reputation. Considering we’re known nationally not just for eats but stellar higher education, it’s perhaps fitting we get to play guinea pig for the collision of brains and booze.

“Even just looking at the last three years, we’ve seen how culinary has put Rhode Island on the map,” Connetti said. “This is a new, science-forward brand and it’s starting here. It’s an exciting time.”

For information on where to find Relativity, visit relativity-whiskey.com.

Don’t Take the Planet with You When You Die

Transform into a pine tree! Be a fungus among us! Infuse into a coral reef and sleep with the fishes! It’s not science fiction. It’s part of a movement of alternative funeral choices that have left more people asking themselves: If it’s my time to go, why not go green?

According to the Green Burial Council (GBC), a non-profit that encourages environmentally sustainable choices for the deceased, interest in green burials is on the rise. For the eco-friendly, it’s a life-and-death decision. Chiefly, to ensure death causes minimal harm to future life.

The GBC acts as a directory for funeral homes and cemeteries that provide green services and natural burials across the country. In Rhode Island, Olsen & Parent in Providence is the only GBC-certified funeral home in the state. On their website, they define their services as a “concise decision to select procedures, services and products that limit pollution and the use of chemicals.” Because Rhode Island is one of several states without a dedicated green cemetery, Olsen & Parish’s green burials are limited to a choice of biodegradable caskets and the decision not to embalm. Many state cemeteries aren’t guaranteed to be pesticide-free, and still require a vault liner.

Vault liners, or burial vaults, are generally made of concrete and heavy enough to be lowered into the ground by crane. Environmental ramifications of concrete production aside, most don’t envision their eternity beginning like phase one of a construction site. It may not be a complete surprise then that burgeoning companies have come up with creative solutions to continue the circle of life in a way that feels more meaningful.

In Italy, Capsula Mundi, which defines itself as a “cultural and broad-based project,” is a start-up that seeks to: 1) arrange the deceased into fetal positions, 2) place them in biodegradable pods and 3) bury them in the ground. A tree is then planted above the pod, its growth presumably enriched by the nutrients in the body below. The end game for Capsula Mundi is a complete transformation of the way the living experience cemeteries. They hope to foster a transition from tombstones to forests.

For those unwilling to wait and see if Capsula Mundi’s idea reaches funded (and legally sanctioned) fruition, Bios Urn offers a different tree hugging alternative. The company, headquartered in Spain, produces and sells the world’s first fully biodegradable urn, designed to convert the ashes of a person into a tree. The urn, emblazoned with a silhouette of a man with a recycle symbol for a head, features a lower compartment for ashes and a top level for seed and soil. In 2016, the company successfully crowdfunded a second product, Bios Incube. Rather than plant your loved one in the ground, Bios Incube acts as an incubator, allowing you to grow and sustain your tree anywhere. At least anywhere on land.

Eternal Reefs allow you to simultaneously foster marine life and memorialize the deceased by mixing ashes into concrete and forming “reef balls” to be placed on the bottom of the ocean. Fish migrate to the newly stationed reefs immediately and, dependent on water conditions, the organization states growth can be seen within weeks.

In general, it’s hard to feel bad about a grave site that leaves you snuggling with sea turtles. Yet, both Eternal Reefs and Bios Urn call for cremation. A process that, while less environmentally damaging than traditional burial, still emits greenhouse gases. For the consummate conservationist who wishes to absolutely minimize his footprint in death, there is another solution.

The Infinity Burial Suit.

Developed by Coeio, a New York-based company, the Infinity Burial Suit goes a step beyond natural burials. Because while a natural burial may not introduce the chemicals of embalming or byproducts of caskets, the decomposition of the body still releases toxins into the earth. Coeio solved this problem by developing a burial suit that has fabric laced with mushrooms and microorganisms designed to aid in decomposition and absorb toxins found in the body. The killer suit sells for $1,500 and for those wishing to buy in advance, Coeio assures that the mushrooms found in the lining only eat dead flesh.

It’s easy to be gauche about all of it. In design, the Infinity Burial Suit calls to mind police renderings of the Zodiac Killer’s death shrouds. Sketches of the Italian tree pods don’t look entirely dissimilar from the cotton candy cocoons of Killer Clowns from Outer Space. Maybe you don’t want to have a picnic in a forest made of your ancestors’ mortal remains.

But breaking from tradition and finding a solution that weds spirituality and sustainability is serious business. Because in the next life, green could be the new black.

The Dating Rituals of Making New Friends

I didn’t want to come on too strong. I wanted to woo without seeming desperate and be assertive, yet not clingy. I wanted to casually mention we both favored the western omelet at West Side Diner without revealing that I’d stalked her Instagram. Tell her we read the same books and both really seemed to like our moms. When someone waxed philosophical in the class we both signed up for (fate), we hid our smiles at the same time. Alison seemed like the perfect ten. But was our latent chemistry all in my head?

Trying to make new friends as an adult can feel a lot like the search for that special someone. After years away from my home state, I moved back to Rhode Island when I was 28. And in that first year, I spent over $1,000 in classes, meet-ups and organized social gatherings dedicated to trying to make new friends.

“It’s not that I don’t have friends, it’s just that they don’t live here!” is a sweaty explanation to make to a new acquaintance. But in my case, it was true. My college friends from Boston had mostly left the city. The new people I’d met through my 20s living in Albuquerque and Chicago weren’t just miles away, but actual time zones.

In theory, being a Young Adult™ in Rhode Island should have left me overwhelmed with social possibilities and invites to Friendsgivings. According to state census, in the post-recession years, Providence, along with Boston and Rochester, NY, had the greatest percentage of total young adult (age 18-34) in-movers. When looked at in dating parlance, however, “I don’t have many friends … readily available and around me,” can seem as big a red flag to a potential bestie as finding yourself on a date with someone who’s never had a long-term relationship. Or whose only ex is a model living in Canada.

As much as making friends is like dating in the search for common interests and the desire to not text too much lest you scare the other person away, it can also be harder. If a would-be friend ghosts you, it stings. When searching for a significant other, most are looking for their primary partner. It’s understandable, albeit disappointing, when you’re not the candidate to fill that singular role. But because people can have plenty of friends, learning you’ve been culled from the herd is different. The idea that someone may not like you simply on a human level — what friend rejection may seem tantamount too — can feel deeply personal.

Yet, as nerve wracking as courting new friends can be, it’s an essential part of how we feel fulfillment.

In a 2013 article published in The Atlantic, one study showed that seeing a close friend each day brings the same amount of happiness as a $100,000 raise. That same article quoted sociobiologist E. O. Wilson as having written, “To be kept in solitude is to be kept in pain and put on the road to madness.”

While I wouldn’t have directly identified my desire to “put myself out there” as a means to avoid a Lovecraftian road to madness, I did realize that if I didn’t put in the work to broaden my network of BFFs, my life would feel significantly lonelier. Did I, too, not yearn for game nights? Or people I could watch reality TV with in reality and outside of group text?

I mined RISD continuing ed classes, AS220 workshops, gyms, book groups, trivia nights and friends of friends. I tried reconnecting with cousins. I wondered if my own hobbies and interests were inherently anti-social, and therefore unworthy. (The spiraling-out phase, familiar to anyone who has spent too long on the dating scene.) When out of the blue, Alison asked if I wanted to get together for breakfast one day, I was elated. Clearly the consistent compliments on her accessories, coupled with getting to class early so I could sit near her and offer to share my bag of pretzels, had paid off.

Our breakfast went well and Alison and I hung out a few more times. She even invited me to meet her kids (huge), but in the end it turned out we were more second-tier buddies who got together for structured activities than the type of friends who would plan a vacation together. The initial spark of friend chemistry began to flicker, if not fade.

As I met new people, I appreciated the worth in these relationships and one activity at a time, my life felt fuller. I was playing the field and being rewarded with thoughtful, interesting people. I couldn’t manifest that “the one” would appear, but I had to trust there were plenty of fish.