The wine list at the Pasta Bar is another high point with about 20 bottles priced from $16 to $30, all picked for their ability to stand up to the strong flavors of the food. The Antinori Santa Cristina sangiovese ($20) is a refreshing, crisp option; sangiovese is the primary grape used in chianti, and the wine has all the food-friendly acidity of chianti but is lighter. Romantics might note that the cheapest red, Villalta's Superiore Valpolicella Classico ($16), probably resembles the wine Romeo and Juliet quaffed: It's a juicy, soft wine that comes from the area just north of those lovebirds' hometown, Verona.

Salads are reliable, too, perfectly bright and green and authentic, without funny chemical notes or fussy flavors. The village salad ($6.95) with Broders' imported olives, feta, and a zingy lemon-olive-oil dressing is big enough for three as an appetizer. The Caesar ($5.50 large, $3.50 small) is snappy with garlic and comes with shavings of excellent parmesan.

When your meal is limited to pasta, salad, and wine, Broders' can seem a downright deliverance, but a few off notes should be acknowledged. The bread basket arrived cold on all of my visits and some of the contents, notably the focaccia and the French loaf, tasted papery and flat, way below the quality of the rest of the restaurant's offerings. (The Broders' deli offers a dozen sandwiches at $4.50 a pop, and I think it's the same focaccia and French bread that keep them from being very good.) Perhaps the bread basket comes under extra-heavy scrutiny because it's the first thing you encounter after an unpredictable, but usually long wait resulting from the ever-popular, ever-annoying no-reservations policy.

But the desserts I sampled were largely lackluster, too--aside from the very good gianduia cake ($4.25), a composition of rich chocolate and hazelnuts served in a buttery, dense wedge. The triple-berry pie, a jam-like filling in a handsome rough pastry crust, was gummy and on one of my visits so undercooked that the dough was still translucent. The tiramisu was the biggest disappointment--not lush strata of coffee- and marsala-soaked cake alternating with chocolate and rich mascarpone cheese, but merely a dry, chalky layer cake.

Then again, Molly and Tom Broder never set out to create a full-service, fine-dining restaurant. They simply wanted to provide a spot where their family and community could gather over the boiled miracle of ingenuity and simplicity that is pasta. What Molly Broder likes best about the restaurant is the low-key neighborliness of the enterprise: "It's not slick, it's not rolled out, I think people appreciate that. We have three sons, we're raising our family here, everything's very tangible. Everyone knows exactly what we do and where we are, and we like that in our lifestyle. We live just two blocks from the restaurants, and we think, 'Wouldn't it be nice if it all could go on for generations?'" She laughs. "Not to put pressure on the kids or anything."

Broder knows that pressure doesn't go well with pasta. Witness the fact that, when Marcella Hazan was in town last year to promote her newest cookbook, she met with Tom and Molly, but neglected to make the trip to 50th Street. She was content to let the seeds she planted bear fruit unwatched and unconstrained.

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