Claire Criscuolo has been a cornerstone of the New Haven restaurant scene for nearly 37 years. She and her late husband, Frank, founded one of the city’s most beloved eateries, Claire’s Corner Copia. On New Year’s Eve 2004, they opened Basta Trattoria next door to Claire’s. “Basta [was] Frank’s baby like Claire’s is my baby,” Claire says.
That inaugural evening provided its own fireworks: a fire in the vents evacuated the restaurant. But in the years since that bumpy start, Basta Trattoria has settled into its small space, blessed with loyal customers.
It survived Frank’s death last December, and as all who knew him could have guessed, Frank’s spirit would never leave the tiny space and his loyal customers. Plus, he’d be hard-pressed to stay away from the food he so loved. “This was Frank’s place to eat. He opened a place where he wanted to eat,” says Claire.
“Frank always wanted a sweet, little Italian restaurant like the ones we visited,” in small, southern Italian towns, she said. He also wanted “to be liberated from Claire’s kosher and vegetarian” cuisine. “The man wanted meat,” Claire says, laughing.
Using organic, sustainable, and locally grown ingredients whenever possible, Claire says, “The food is as fresh as it can be. We don’t have a freezer. The fish comes in six days a week. The zucchini isn’t cut until you order it. It’s the epitome of freshness.” They “keep in mind the freshness and the quality that Italian food is meant to be.” Lingering over the meal is encouraged.
Although the menu is filled with dishes Basta has served throughout its seven years, right before Frank died he changed the menu. “He wanted to add something from the south of France, something from the south of Spain. He wanted to add a couple of things he just loved,” Claire says.
In 2009, I was fortunate to photograph Frank at Basta for a story in the New Haven Register. Frank was a food photographer himself, and he often took the photos that accompanied the columns Claire wrote for the Register’s food section. I was a bit concerned my photos wouldn’t pass Frank’s muster, but his generosity wouldn’t let me fail. In my portrait of Frank, I was able to capture him exactly as so many of us knew him, with that twinkle in his eye, his gentleness shining through. The image is in this post’s gallery above, and on the wall at Basta.
Frank’s love of food, Italy, and Claire infused every inch of Basta Trattoria. Diners can’t miss the love Frank poured into every morsel on their plates.
Restaurant Website: http://www.bastatrattoria.com/
• The Detes: 1006 Chapel St., New Haven • 203-772-1715 • Open daily for dinner as well as late lunch on the weekends.
• Price Range: Appetizers $10-17, salads $10-14, pasta $15-26, entrees $24-34
• Style of Food: Modern interpretations of classic Italian dishes
• Most Popular Dishes: Sunday Dinner! Also Ricotta di Natale, Farfalle Funghi, and Salmon (any way they cook it)
• Wines: only Italian
• Not so well known fact: They don’t have a freezer, so everything has to be fresh, fresh, fresh.
• Frank’s legacy: “He opened a place where he wanted to eat,” Claire says.