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Serious Italian cooking arrives in Westminster – Orange County Register


The smoked salmon tartine from Pastars in Westminster is one of those things that’ll drive you crazy as you admire its good looks and try to decide whether to eat it with your fingers or a knife and fork. I grab it with my hands and rush it toward my mouth. Next time I’ll know better. I’ve now got goat cheese smeared all over my face and mustard seeds dripping down my hands while a large hunk of bread hangs from my teeth because it didn’t tear apart exactly where I intended. But I’ve tasted just enough to know that I need another bite, and fast.

This is a fantastic sandwich. The bread is some sort of stirato, or Italian baguette, so it’s got that dense, chewy texture of ciabatta with a sturdy outer crust. It’s layered with whipped goat cheese and thinly sliced salmon, pickled onions, radishes, mustard seed and teardrop tomatoes marinated in banyuls (a fortified dessert wine). You’ll probably want to have a bottle of rosé chilling in the fridge before you go pick this up. 

Pastars opened mid-pandemic, a small cafe serving contemporary Italian fare (mostly), with no more than about 40 seats at  full capacity. The first couple of times I tried dining here, the queue for the limited tables stretched around the corner, at least 15 people in line already, mostly young couples celebrating date night, many people clutching bottles of wine. It’s still BYOB for now. “How long’s the wait?” I asked. “About an hour and a half,” I was told. 

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Maybe after the pandemic, I thought. But the pandemic dragged on. And on. Then the restaurant finally added reservations on OpenTable, but as soon as they did that, on-premise dining got shut down again. So I returned for takeout instead. 

The tartine isn’t the only great sandwich here. They roast an impressive porchetta, which gets sliced into inch-thick slabs and piled onto hand-cut sourdough with handfuls of arugula, pickled onions, sour cherry jam and salsa verde. The housemade potato chips are terrific. 

There’s an impressive slow-food philosophy at play in the kitchen here. They appear to make just about everything in-house, including all the pastas. While the rolled-and-cut noodles are thicker, denser and chewier than what most Italian restaurants serve, they are absolutely delicious. Uncharacteristically thick taglierini, for example, are tinted deep yellow from egg yolks and tossed with aged parmesan in a stunning riff on cacio e pepe. I’m glad the portion size of this dish is modest because I would have licked the bowl clean no matter how big it was, and I don’t need to be doing that.

The cooks make their own spinach tagliatelle, which gets tossed with a very nice bolognese and topped with housemade ricotta and fried breadcrumbs.  

Caesar salad gets a modern makeover with baby romaine, pancetta and aged balsamic vinegar. And a beautifully cooked flat-iron steak comes with confit cherry tomatoes and dueling sauces, romesco and salsa verde. 

The menu is refreshingly concise. After just a handful of dishes, I’ve already sampled a third of the menu. And I genuinely can’t wait for the pandemic to end, because I really want to dine here and see this place in action. This could prove to be the most exciting Italian restaurant ever to open in Westminster, by a mile.

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Pastars

Where: 14250 Beach Blvd., Westminster

When: Lunch and dinner, Tuesday-Saturday

Phone: 714-622-4538

Online: eatpastars.com



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