a pasta bowl from porano photo by elizabeth maxson

Review: Porano Pasta in Downtown

New to the MX and to the world, Porano brings big, unique flavors to a tried and true lunch formula. Think Chipotle but Italian with chef-owner Gerard Craft’s touch: Select a base, choose a sauce, pick a protein or vegetable and finish with two toppings. The upscale feel of the bright, clean space translates directly to the quality of ingredients that let you make heavy to light meals, all at a price point that’s easy to stomach.

Selecting the sturdy organic semolina pasta can take you in a traditional Italian direction, while choosing the romaine and kale mix might start off a hearty salad. If you’re on the hungrier side, combine the filling organic farro with Italian rice to soak up your sauce of choice.

the line at porano // photo by elizabeth maxson

This isn’t a basic, hot-medium-or-mild affair: Three unique red sauces, three lighter dressings, an Alfredo, and a pumpkin seed and lime pesto can all adorn your base of choice. You can’t go wrong here, unless you’re dumping the smoky Sunday sugo onto your romaine. The garlic and chile oil gives a salad a spicy kick. Each will taste great on a meatball, but the pomodoro really pops.

For carnivores, there’s fall-apart slow-roasted pork, plump juicy beef meatballs and well-seasoned marinated grilled chicken. For those who prefer non-animal parts, there’s spicy tofu and seasonal vegetables. Can’t decide? Get half and half of anything. Combining the vegetables with any protein makes a meal worthy of twice the price. Throwing the chicken on top of your romaine and kale makes one of the best lunch salads available downtown. I like the Sunday sugo sauce with the pork over rice; combined, they give a bento-like texture while maintaining the Italian flavor.

Pasta and sauce need a little crunch? Add crispy garlic or breadcrumbs. Salad feeling too healthy? Choose from Grana Padano, mozzarella or pecorino cheeses. Giardiniera? Add it to everything! Hot honey sounds weird, but it makes a great complement to the spicy tofu.

If your lunch needs an add-on, go for the fried risotto balls or the focaccia. And save room for a treat. The rotating selection of house-made gelato pops are dreamy, especially the Castaway with subtle papaya and coconut. A Negroni slushy is one of the better reasons to be an adult: It’s got all the bite of the classic cocktail with some sweetness. If only they served them in 32-ounce to-go cups.

frozen negronis // photo by elizabeth maxson

The Downside
So. Many. Choices. The only risk of a bad meal at Porano is by user error. Luckily, the excessively friendly staff has come up with predetermined bowls and is happy to help you choose your own combinations. It’s easy to fall into a rut ordering an old favorite, but it’s a challenge to make a bowl that doesn’t taste great, so order outside your comfort zone. Parking is the one thing that will prevent daily trips to Porano. Unless you work downtown and can walk, leave extra time to find a metered spot or be ready to pay for the MX garage, since Porano only validates on nights and weekends.

Porano Pasta

634 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314.833.6414, poranopasta.com