Review: Basta’s Trattoria

Refreshed 4.08

Bastas on NW 21st used to be a Tastee-Freeze, but if it weren’t for the steep angular roof you’d never know it. A huge salt water aquarium greets you just inside the front door. The walls are painted in earth tones and large heavy drapes soften the space. There is a small outdoor area for alfresco dining. A warm comfortable feel permeates the restaurant.

Native Italian Marco Frattaroli is passionate about food from his land and it shows. The vinegar, bread, and sausage used in the many recipes are made on premises. They also infuse some of their own liqueurs which allows them to get the taste of their cocktails just the way they want it.

About a third of the entrée menu is based on pasta. For those watching carbs, options include quite a bit of seafood, steak, lamb chops, chicken breast, cioppino, and a vegetarian option of grilled vegetables, oyster mushrooms served with mozzarella and grilled polenta. Prices run between $13-$19.00.

Salads were nothing special. The Caesar proves that size isn’t everything. While it was huge, the entire thing had an almost dry texture, and only an average dressing ($9.00). The chopped salad was thinly sliced romaine, fennel, and radicchio tossed with salty pecorino and typical oil & vinegar dressing ($6.00).

A special of 2-inch raviolis with wild boar was a little disappointing in that it seemed like just dense little packages stuffed with rich “pork” in red wine and tomato sauce and cost $17.

The calamari fritti was fresh, but had no spark and seemed almost rubbery. The bland salsa verde dipping sauce was a poor match. This is disappointing as there is much good calamari in Portland ($6.00). Beef Carpaccio was excellent; a large plate of thinly sliced beef, perfectly seasoned ($7.00). Arancini (saffron rice balls) are from the Island of Sicily. Here they are huge, the size of oranges. Stuffed with zucchini, eggplant and fresh mozzarella, they were really excellent. I could be happy making a meal out of a couple of these and a salad ($7.00). They may be the best in town.

A recent special of tagliatta made with Painted Hills hanger steak, marinated with “Tuscan pestino” served with sautéed snow pea tips and potatoes was satisfying. The steak had great flavor and was served just as I ordered ($18.00). Pollo con salvia, chicken breast pieces sautéed with cream, sage, garlic, and white wine over penne was unimpressive but filling. I don’t think I would order it again ($14.00). The pollo crocante, however, was a winner: a huge piece of chicken with an incredible crackling skin, flavored with rosemary salt. This was a terrific dish! ($14.00) Finally, Uncle Vittorio’s Ragout, rigatoni in a sauce of baby back rib meat braised in tomato and vegetables was bright and delicious ($13.00).

I like the atmosphere and the excellent staff at Bastas and have been coming here off and on for years. The food has varied wildly during that time depending on who was in the kitchen, but it seems to be having a bit of an upswing. Overall it has its hits and misses, but if you pick carefully you can have a good meal here. It seems to be quite a first date place – it is fun to watch the new couples testing the water over dinner.

The wine list is extensive and can include some real finds. Many good Italian reds are available. Since I was reviewing two bakeries at the same time I was visiting here, I will admit I have not had the desserts. They are pretty much what you would expect from an Italian restaurant and look appealing.

  • Phone: 503-274-1572
  • Address: 410 N.W. 21st Ave., Portland, OR. 97209  Google Map. They have a small parking lot behind the building – a nice plus
  • Hours: Mon-Thu 5pm-10:00pm, Fri – Sat 5pm-11pm, Sun 5pm-10pm
  • Website: bastastrattoria.com

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Anonymous says

    one of the worst times i have had was here. the waiter was a jerk, they were not able to make a bloody mary, said they did not have the mix. were not able serve one of the drinks on their menu that said it comes with fresh mint because they only get mint in a few days a week and the kitchen needs the mint.

  2. ExtraMSG says

    One of the best things about Basta’s is getting on their mailing list and going to their special dinners. They’re great values. The whole roasted pig last year, eg, was great.

  3. Hillary Johnson says

    Back in the pre-PC late 70’s/early 80’s, this former Tastee Freeze was a good, inexpensive Chinese restaurant, affectionately known among starving students as the “Tastee Chink.” Times do change, and something tells me its current patrons don’t go around saying, “Hey, meet me down at the Tastee Wop!” This was a great example of Googie architecture, though, witnessed by the fact that the building’s kitsch-culture origins still merit mention after so many incarnations. Glad to hear it’s still a good place to eat.

  4. kevin says

    I find the commentary of this restaurant (as most of your reviews) absurd, exactly what could I expect of someone probably brought up with pop tarts or frosted flakes. Instead of bringing to light the food and character of a restaurant you tell us what you like or not e.g. “bland” “unimpressive” frankly, I do not trust your opinon. You haven’t proven your self!! Take for example the critic of the fried calamari at Bastas . “Fresh but” “Rubbery” What does that mean!!! Overcooked or under done? “Bland” Salsa Verde. Do you know what a Salsa Verde is? As you probably know lemon is commonly used with fried seafood in Mediterranean areas. Is lemon bland? Is Salsa Verde citric? If you don’t want to teach your readers about food at least acknowledge the inadequacies of the restaurant you are reviewing ( BY UNDERSTANDING THEM, it might help ) and above all describe the positive qualitites because good food is a common goal, please don’t let your ego get in the way . Sincerely kevin

  5. Carolyn Manning says

    Sincerely Kevin …

    I think you may have some confusion as to what this site is about. FoodDude reports on his experiences at Portland restaurants.

    If he found the calamari chewy, then it was not prepared properly (perfectly prepared calamri friti is tender) … and so that is what he reports. You don’t have to know HOW to prepare it to know when it’s been prepared properly or improperly, right?

    So let me explain the concept of “Fresh but chewy.” It refers to two different aspects of a dish: Taste and Texture. If it tastes fresh, but has a chewy texture, it is edible, but not necessarly desirable. See? Not so confsuing, really.

    And after all, isn’t that what we hope to find when we go out to eat … something perfectly prepared that we are not able (or likely) to prepare at home, for whatever reason.

    It is silly to think that it is the critic’s responsibility to educate the chefs at the restaurant on proper techniques. (i.e. he surely doesn’t need to tell the chef whether he’s over done it or underdone the dish. Simply stating that it was chewy tells a good chef what he needs to know).

    It is equally silly to imagine that his duty is to educate his readers as to how the dish was prepared. Why would the reader of a restaurant review need to know if the calamari was overdone or underdone? All they need to know is what the critic’s experience was.

    This is not a cooking site. But it might include some elements of that in the future … who knows? But right now, that is not what this site is about.

    Sincerly Kevin … there is no need to be insulting (i.e. your “Poptarts and frosted flakes” comment). If you don’t agree with his posts, that’s OK. Not everyone has the taste, experience and upbringing you have (or I have, or FoodDude has).

    If you find your experience routinely varies from the experiences recounted on this site, then perhaps this is not a good place for you to get your restaurant recommendations.

    Just a thought.

  6. Grapedog says

    My wife and I have been dining at Basta’s for quite a while now and have always enjoyed the food. Since everyone is different, one dish might be wonderful to one person and not so to another. I wish we could all write reviews on a restaurant, but that would be too cumbersome to read.

    We’ve always enjoyed dinners at Basta’s. I compare the food to that prepared by my family in Gualdo Tadino, Italy and their local restaurants. I am bored by Mingo, Pazzo and other “Italian” places but I’m always happy with the food at Basta’s. (I do think Fratelli is fun and Giorgio’s has execution issues for the price you pay.)

    The snow pea shoots are a great appetizer, sauteed quickly to maintain freshness and flavor. The beet salad is refreshing but not too heavy. The papardelle bolognese is wonderful with rich flavors that complement the tender pasta. Wild board dishes have that subtle game flavor. I haven’t tried many desserts since I’ve always been too full!

  7. Food Dude says

    Grapedog, I should be back there in the next few months to update my review. Thanks for the tips.

  8. Suds Sister says

    Basta’s has a new fall cocktail menu that’s really worth checking out, especially if you are going in for their delicious steal of a happy hour.

    What I sampled last night ($6.50-$8.50):

    Red Delicious apple martini: Crown Royal whiskey muddled with red delicous apples and a splash of cranberry. This comes served with a big, bright apple wedge. Warm and yet crisp. Lovely!

    CEO (Chopin extra olives): Chopin potato vodka, a little dirty, served up with three Lehman’s farmed blue cheese stuffed olives. This one is serious business, perfectly mixed.

    Autumnal Side Car: Courvoisier, tuaca and Frangelico shaken with an orange sweet and sour blend, garnished with toasted hazelnuts. A wee bit on the sweet side, but very warming.

    I also ordered a Manhattan ($6), just to see how they make a straight cocktail. Needless to say, perfect. It’s, again, perfectly mixed and garnished with a candied cherry.

    I don’t know who their came up with this list really knows what they are doing. The catchy drinks above as well as the others that are on their menu are all very different, a quality many other places lack. The other thing I like about the menu is that it doesn’t rely on (insert herb-du-jour here)-infused whatever. These are straight-up good drinks. Sure, the garnishes are substantial and almost laughable when they arrive (you try balancing a quarter of an apple on the side of martini-glass). But these little snacks all go very well with the drinks.

    The place was very crowded, it was a Friday after work, but service was excellent and all of the cocktails were all well balanced.

    The next rainy or chilly evening that finds you in the neighborhood, stop in for a little nip of a warmer. Sure, there are plenty of other martini options nearby, but none with the civilized whimsy of Basta’s.

  9. Cognos2000 says

    I think Basta’s Happy Hour food is an excellent value. The mussels in saffron sauce with a touch of cream are favorites. A lot of flavor with a bit of richness from the cream. And they are generous with the saffron. I like the arancini but wish they used cheese as a filling as I find that more traditional. The carpaccio is excellent. I cannot comment on the calamari because it’s not something I enjoy even when it is well done. There are some drinks that I like here I am not a martini lover by any stretch.

    I also like dinner here when I am in the mood for lamb or steak. The pea tips are an excellent side and if you ask you can have them substituted for whatever veggie comes with your entree.

  10. mesopotamian22 says

    Basta’s is simply not very good. Some things are decent, but overall the attitude, which comes from the owner on down, is one of arrogance and almost resentment that you are making their life difficult by even setting foot in the door. While I’m generally a big fan of supporting small businesses, there is a lot of competition in the eatery business, and after four different attempts to find the “sweet spot” in eating at Basta’s, and either being turned off by mediocre service, or uninspired food, I have given up – and have told my friends they really have much better choices in Portland. Sorry to have to say this, but if you want a nice time out, with good atmosphere, decent food and a friendly staff, go elsewhere.

  11. Angelhair says

    There are several menu items that Basta’s does very well. The chicken, the ragu, the steak and the cioppino never dissappoint. I never eat dessert there, but the cocktails are usually pretty good.

    Granted, this is not innovative cooking. But it’s a solid neighborhood place that I frequent, well, frequently!

  12. grapedog says

    mesopotamian22 seems to have an issue with the people at Basta’s as well as the food not being up to his/her standards for Italian cooking. I wonder if m22 comes into the restaurant with an attitude, expecting the worst and acting improperly such that the experience just spirals downhill. I’ve enjoyed Basta’s for years and have never had bad service. But, I also don’t typically go into a restaurant pre-loaded with an opinion of how I think it will be.

  13. says

    I go to bastas rather frequently and haven’t ever had a problem with the service. They are usually very friendly despite the fact that I’m a young jerk. I have had some really really good dishes there (last was some amazing wild boar). I have also had some boring ones (duck sausage with orange sauce). The only bad thing about Basta’s that remains consistent is their bread – It’s absolutely terrible. The ciabatta, the focaccia , all of it. yuck.

  14. Food Dude says

    I’ve been to Bastas several times over the last few months, and have never had bad service. If anything, they have gone out of their way to make sure I was comfortable. Last month I was sitting in the bar area, when two large and very noisy parties filled all the other available tables. The hostess came around several times, apologizing for something that was obviously out of her control. I think the food has varied wildly over the years, sometimes really uninspired, but it is still a decent option – and they have parking.

  15. Jill-O says

    I also go to Basta’s regularly and have never had bad service or a lousy meal. I love the pollo crocante, steak, mussels, carpaccio, and the drinks are usually pretty darn good too. They have a fabulous happy hour and I’ve also had some very nice food at some of their special dinners (wild game, mushroom, pig roast) as well.

    I think it is a good thing to remember that mesopotamian22’s opinion is only one voice among many. They are entitled to their opinion…however wrong it may be. ;o)

  16. grapedog says

    Jill-O,
    You are right, everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how painful it is for me to read some of those opinions on a website. The restaurant industry is so competitive and going out to eat is an option of luxury for most people. I’d hate to see a business harmed unnecessarily because of one person’s negative comments.

  17. Food Dude says

    I try to screen out the ones that are obviously trolls and whatnot. You’d be amazed how many email addresses don’t validate. Everyone has different tastes though. I was just looking at the restaurant survey. The same restaurant is currently tied for best and worst, with over 100 surveys completed. Too early to see what’s gonna happen, but it shows the diversity of opinions.

  18. runi says

    I agree that Basta’s is variable, but I will continue to recommend it because of it’s consistency. I’ve always had a good dinner there, even if the food wasn’t spectacular. Always have walked away with a good feeling, sated, happy with my decision to eat there. Recently, I had my second-favorite pasta ever, a duck egg pasta with the boar sauce. Beautiful, silky, dense pasta. Made both my hubby and I said ‘mmm’ involuntarily. The first fav was in S.F. and I don’t know the name of the place but it was another silky, skin-like pasta like nothing I’ve ever had before. Basta’s has been around for twenty years for good reason. Enjoy.
    Runi.

  19. Severino says

    For all the years I visit Basta’s, not a single time I was disappointed. In the lounge only,the happy hour menu is offered from open to close. The flank steak is one of my favorite dishes. It cost $7 and is the perfect amount of food. In addition to the regular happy hour dishes, one or two specials are added. The recent ‘Lingua in Salmi’, cow tongue, is a fabulous dish.
    On the main menu, seasonal dishes are offered next to the regular items. The ragout is delicious, the seasonal Osso Buco is one of my favorite.
    Basta’s also offers Italian Family style dinners such as the Pig Roast, the Mushroom dinner and the Fresh Fish Food Fest and occasional a Wild Game dinner during the fall season. Now these are much fun where you can gather next to people you don’t know, have a good laugh, have good food, excellent wine and make new friends.
    There is never a boring moment there, I highly recommend it.

  20. Midge says

    Bastas is a great Italian restaurant where orginal Italian fare and a good wine selection can be had. I’ve mostly been there for happy hour. I like their $3 desert which is like an ice yogurt/cream desert, which is good value; I’m unsure if I’ve seen it on the menu lately. The wine selection by the bottle looks extensive, but by the glass, there could be more variety and changes made to the regular offerings as I always have the same choices everytime I come in for happy hour.

    I have gone one or twice with a large group and never have recommendations of pairing wine with food, which I’m new too, but I can appreciate it despite I’m not an epicurean. So I think the staff could be more accommodating in that respect.

    I don’t recall if this restaurant has a daily specials list but that would be a nice addition as well.

  21. pdx_yogi says

    I’m a longtime loyal customer, been there countless times over the years, and was never disappointed until a couple months ago when I went for happy hour. I sat down at a table, told the waitress I was expecting a lady. I waited and waited. Finally the lady called me. Turns out she had been sitting at the bar for 15 minutes, told the waitress she was meeting someone, and the waitress never put it together!

    Next to us was a foursome that was loud and offensive. Even though they were drunk, waitress continued to serve them, an OLCC violation. I complained to her and she didn’t seem to get it.

    I ordered a dessert (forget what is was) that they said was huckleberry, thinking what a proper Oregon item for fall. She delivered it with imported unappetizing-looking out of season raspberries. She put the burden on me to complain it wasn’t what I ordered and to send it back, rather than tell me up front they were out of huckleberries.

    There were a couple other annoyances I don’t quite recall.

  22. Kidd says

    I have to say I love this restaurant. I used to be apprehensive about going there, but recently I’ve found the service, the food and the drinks one step above what I’m used to. You can’t beat the happy hour. Food between 3-9 dollars. come on!! I’m a college kid and that price has allowed me to pay rent and enjoy a hot meal. Bring your friends, post up in the lounge, order 6 things of the happy hour menu, a bottle of wine and let the waiter do the rest. Easy.

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