Câ€‹arbonara is one of my food pet peeves. In America, we add cream, creating an egg-enriched Alfredo sauce that’s nothing like its Roman counterpart. True, it works to create a luscious sauce, but you lose so much of the flavor—the richness of the eggs, the funkiness of the cured pork, and the zip of the pecorino and black pepper.
So, I had high hopes for Pax Romana, where they aren’t reinventing dishes with new flavor combinations or fancy techniques, but they are treating carbonara with the authenticity and respect it deserves. And you should order it. Each strand of the house-made spaghetti is coated in a decadent, creamy sauce (which, in fact, contains no cream). It’s rich, porky, and sharp all at the same time, and our table of three couldn’t eat it fast enough.
The restaurant occupies a cavernous space just a block from busy Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains. Brick arches frame giant windows; a pressed-tin ceiling adds tons of character; and ubiquitous white subway tile leads into the semi-open kitchen. In the center of the room, a woman in a pink chef’s jacket rolls malleable slabs of pasta dough through a silver machine, while a TV discreetly broadcasts a soccer match in the background. On a busy Monday night, a group of women are seated at the pasta bar, learning to make noodles from Chef Cristian Pettita (formerly of La Bocca, just a few blocks away). One giant wall is covered in a quirky mix of Italian phrases written in Roman dialect. The service is friendly and prompt, though not without a few bumps (forgetting the specials, mixing up the leftovers, bringing the wrong flavor of gelato).
A meal at Pax Romana starts with addictive house-made herbed breadsticks. There are Roman-style appetizers like braised artichokes with fresh mint and oregano, which were tasty enough but still had some tough outer leaves. Supplì al telefono, tomato-and-mozzarella rice croquettes named for the way the melting cheese pulls like a telephone cord, were served with olive ascolane—green olives stuffed with ground meat—a popular street food from Italy’s Le Marche region. The supplì were appropriately creamy, and the flavor of the olives was just right, despite the heavy breading. An Italian spin on chicken wings came in a brothy mix of olive oil, lemon, herbs, and garlic that provided plenty of flavor but, unfortunately, also flabby chicken skin. The Roman pizza wasn’t exactly traditional, but we devoured without hesitation its mix of crispy yet chewy crust, bright sauce, and fresh mozzarella.
The bucatini Amatriciana was reminiscent of trips to Rome.
The real star of the show, however, is the pasta. After all, the restaurant bills itself as a pastificio or pasta factory, making all the pastas for more than 12 dishes onsite. Maccheroni with pork rib-and-sausage ragù was reminiscent of Sunday gravy with tender braised pork and sausage. Deep, pork flavor permeated every bite and the rich fat from the meats created an unctuous sauce that coated every ridge of the pasta. An unassuming plate of oxtail-stuffed ravioli (no bones!) in an authentic celery-perfumed tomato sauce transported us straight to Rome. Bucatini Amatriciana also hit all the right flavor notes, though the onions were a bit too crunchy. And fusilli with broccolo Romano (Roman broccoli), red onion, and ricotta salata was a surprising success, with its balance of light, fresh flavors. Gnocchi were tender, if a bit underseasoned; whole-wheat penne was a vehicle for creamy pesto and a snowfall of Parmesan cheese, and a red wine-farro risotto got a pungent kick from Gorgonzola. Cacio e pepe, however, fell flat and was neither sharp enough nor particularly peppery.
The main courses were somewhat unremarkable. Chunks of chicken with peppers and potatoes was simple and light. Sliced steak with arugula salad was tender and properly cooked but lacked seasoning. And a veal cutlet with artichokes was gray, tough, and flavorless—except to be disconcertingly sweet.
For dessert, order one of the flavors (we liked peanut butter) from the gelato case.
For dessert, opt for gelato but skip the soggy pizzelle it’s served with. Surprisingly, nontraditional peanut-butter gelato, for its intense flavor, was our resounding favorite. Brazilian chocolate with a layer of caramel sounded promising but was unavailable on all four visits.
A phrase on the wall says it best: “One does not live on only love. You also need carbonara.” Maybe I could live without Pax Romana’s carbonara, but why would I want to?
189 E Post Rd, White Plains
Food 3/4 | Service 2.5/4 | Atmosphere 3/4 | Cost $$