What do you have when you take freshly cooked pasta that’s still piping hot and dump it into a hollowed out wheel of cheese? You get what’s called a dalla forma preparation. This delightfully simple method of serving pasta is seen a lot in Italy and parts of the East Coast, but rarely in Los Angeles. Now, luckily for us, there’s Forma, an Italian restaurant and cheese bar on Santa Monica’s Montana Avenue that places this hot pasta and cheese wheel presentation at center stage.
There is certainly a performance aspect of this style of service—it’s not quite tableside because the pasta is finished at the back corner of Forma, where the wine and cheese display is housed. However, the fascinating yet simple final steps of dalla forma are executed openly in the dining room.
Depending on which dalla forma pasta is ordered, different cheeses will be used to complete the plate. There are five pastas from which to choose for this preparation, and not all pastas on the menu involve dalla forma, so decide accordingly.
Once it’s cooked, the pasta is rushed out from the kitchen, still in the pan, to the cheese station where several wheels of cheese await. Most of the wheels are hollow like gigantic mixing bowls fashioned from Italian cheeses. When the steaming pasta touches and softens the cheese, irresistible alchemy happens. For my order, I was witness to simple spaghetti meltingly mingling with Pecorino Romano, slicking each strand with a sheen of sharp, salty cheese.
Different regions in Italy apply this technique to different pastas. In the North, tortellini is favored. Forma’s tortellini done dalla forma style is exalted with a mix of seasonal mushrooms, light cream sauce, and truffle oil. After the pasta rings hit the wheel of Bella Lodi, the tortellini becomes cheesy perfection.
But it’s not just the pasta that gets the special cheese treatment at Forma. Ask for the filet mignon tartare or any pizza, and Enzo or Gabriella, the people behind the cheese station, will produce a Raspadura knife to scrape feathery shavings of Parmigiano or other cheeses onto the order. It’s the ideal topping.
With the pasta receiving such special treatment, it’s easy to forget that there’s a cheese bar too at Forma. You can get cheese servings à la carte of a wide variety that range from a firm Franzedaz to “the stinkers” like puzzone di Moena, aka smelly cheese of Moena.
Executive Chef Piero Topputo, who grew up in Gravina Di Puglia perched in Southern Italy, promises soon to plate one of his home town faves, ricci di mare pasta or uni pasta. In addition, General Manager and Partner Mario Sabatini hints at introducing Carbonara onto the menu but is waiting on equipment to properly present it dalla forma style.
Whoever thought being this cheesy would be such an amazing thing?
Forma, 1610 Montana Ave., Santa Monica, 424-231-2868