Pasta Paradiso owner Renee Lee always looks like she is going to burst into song, so you would never know that her newest eatery is her fifth and not her first. The joy and pride she takes in her Italian restaurant on at 1315 Trinity Dr., is apparent to her diners and seems to be shared by her staff.
After operating restaurants in Grants Pass, Ore.; Telluride, Colo.; Moab, Utah and San Diego, Calif., Lee decided Los Alamos needed an Italian restaurant so she spent several months renovating the former Hill Diner. She replaced and lowered the ceiling, insulated the walls, stuccoed the exterior, installed new double-paned windows and on July 15, 2016, she and her brand new commercial kitchen opened to the public.
Pizza made from scratch at Pasta Paradiso. Photo by Maire O’Neill/ladailypost.com
“I just loved the building,” Lee said. “It was the old commissary for the Manhattan Project and I love that it has history.”
She said people wanted real Italian food and she listened to their suggestions, adding 20 items to the buffet, and decided that the pasta should stay in the kitchen so that it is always fresh and hot and doesn’t sit on the steam trays. Lee is very particular about the ingredients used at Pasta Paradiso. The pasta comes from the renowned La Bella company in New York state, the mussels come from Seattle Seafood, the vegetables from Just the Best, and she handpicks her prime rib.
“Then a miracle happened,” Lee said. “Sergio Escarcega walked through my door! He was a chef at the Blue Window under the previous owners and then at a high-end restaurant in Denver. He moved back to Los Alamos because his family is here.”
Escarcega’s specialty is Southern Sicilian food, which Lee says has “a little kick to it”.
“He is the happiest kitchen chef I have ever had. Everyone loves working with him and he loves cooking. He knows Italian food inside out and is wonderful to work with,” she said.
Photo by Maire O’Neill/ladailypost.com
Pasta Paradiso offers the all-you-can-eat pasta bar at lunchtime, which includes salad, soups, pasta made fresh in the kitchen, chicken, shrimp, calamari, meatballs, Italian sausage, lasagna, baked penne, ravioli, pizza, fresh vegetables, soft drinks, tea, coffee and a scoop of spumoni. The cost is $14 for adults, $12.50 for seniors, with lower prices still for young people and no cost to kids under five.
The lunch menu also includes a variety of soups such as cream of artichoke and tomato basil, made per order calzones, and sandwiches made on their homemade bread with a choice of hand-cut fries, a cup of soup, or a side salad.
“Our patrons expressed a preference for full meals in the evening so we just have the buffet at lunchtime,” Lee said. “Our dinner menu has everything from Chef Sergio’s Napoleon Paradiso to New Zealand Mussels.”
Napoleon Paradiso is an eggplant and Portobello mushroom stack served over risotto, and the New Zealand mussels are served in a wine, butter, garlic and fresh herb sauce over linguini. Local favorites include the basil-crusted salmon served over garlic mashed potatoes as well as the rib eye steak in a red wine and rosemary demi-glaze served with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.
Pasta choices include spaghetti, angel air, cavatappi, fettuccini or linguini with a choice of marinara, Bolognese, Alfredo or green chili Alfredo sauce.
Desserts are all made onsite and include tiramisu made with Kahlua, cannoli made with Amaretto, a rosemary crème brulee, and panacotta with raspberry sauce.
Gluten free and vegetarian options are available and Lee says everything is made from scratch so they know exactly which ingredients their dishes contain.
“We are becoming a very popular venue for dinner because of our wide selection of wines and beer including the wonderful Bell’Agio Chianti and Stella Artois beer on tap,” Lee said.
Pasta Paradiso now offers Sunday champagne brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., which includes prime rib, ham, pork loin, eggs benedict with crab or Canadian bacon, quiche, homemade biscuits with gravy, pasta dishes and much more.
A discount of 15 percent is given to firefighters, military and law enforcement personnel, which Lee says is her way “of giving back”.
Hours are Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. through 8 p.m.; Fridays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. through 8:30 p.m.; Saturdays 5-8:30 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 505.662.0552 for more information.
Chef Sergio Escarcega and Pasta Paradiso owner Renee Lee. Photo by Maire O’Neill/ladailypost.com
Freshly made buffet items at Pasta Paradiso. Photo by Maire O’Neill/ladailypost.com