Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bread and Wine

There are some restaurants you want to return to like a good book. You pretty much know what will happen, how you’ll feel, what you’ll do after (roll around on the sofa wishing there were more/you had stopped sooner), and yet each time there’s also something devilishly charming and nuanced and satisfying that you’ve never found before. This is Pane Vino.

The name may suggest humble fare, and that’s right, it is simple - simple and devastating. When Marty Levine bought the place called Pane Vino 13 years ago, the previous owner had just re-opened the restaurant under its new name in order to up the selling price. And that’s when Levine swooped in. Ever since, he’s been serving food in the tiny, low-ceilinged, warmly-lit dining room on the side of the Post Road. When you arrive, Levine greets you by the door, and you are ushered into the room that apparently holds 45, but feels even smaller. The tables are tight, and sometimes, if you’re sitting in the back, you start to think you can feel someone else’s breath. But it’s like being in Italy; space is precious and bodies are meant to be close to one another. Bread and Wine. The way eating should be.

A few Fridays ago we sidled up to the restaurant at six. It was decidedly early for us, so that we would have the rest of the night to hang out (and, uh, watch City Slickers) before I went back to school the next day. I entered the restaurant with some trepidation - would we be the first ones there? Would the waiters shower us with undue attention only to leave us hanging, begging, please for another napkin, as soon as the first seating arrived?

But, no. We weren’t the first ones there. A couple sat easily reading the newspaper over a bottle of wine. We ordered and the food came at a slow and steady pace. Highlights of the menu included charred grilled calamari with a pesto-like drizzle and sherry vinaigrette, steamed mussels in white wine with Pernod, basil and a little cream, a mesclun salad with chevre-smeared toasts that impressed everyone (the leaves were unusually thick and full of flavor), the classic combination of butternut squash ravioli with a brown butter and sage sauce, lamb in a red wine reduction, sole with pecan crust and chive butter, and pork chops with caramelized apple, pureed fig and calvados demi-glace.

And then the tiramisu. This incarnation used rum as an accent, instead of drowning the dessert to mask the usual staleness of the lady fingers. The freshness of the dessert meant that the textural integrity of all its parts remained, even as it fell under our eager spoons.

Pane Vino Restaurant
1431 Post Road E
Westport, CT 06880
(203) 255-1153

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