Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Ristorante Panorama

What makes Ristorante Panorama (or just "Panorama") so unforgettable are its flights of wines and reputation of having the largest selection of wines by the glass in the region. The bar offers the spectacle you would expect with this description, displaying scores of bottles in glass cabinets attached to tubes hooked to taps. Billed as "the largest wine preservation and dispensing system in the world," Il Bar allows for 120 bottles to be opened and preserved with inert nitrogen gas. Which, when contemplating where to pass a late afternoon in November, seemed like a good idea.

And so I found myself there yesterday, perusing the long wine menu. Oh yes, it's much more than a list; it's long and interesting, with groupings of wines that are both humorous and apt. Although it claims to change every week, the wear on our menus suggested otherwise. Not complaining, however, I ended up with a "Variety of Varietals" and TPB ordered the "Que Syrah, Shiraz" flight. The flights are five 1.5 oz tastes, the perfect amount all together. My varietals included a pinot noir, shiraz, cabernet, merlot, and zinfandel which were fun in and of themselves to sample against one another. I did notice our bartender pouring from some bottles that were simply uncorked, or preserved with the vacuuming system I have at home, rather than the life support system described above. I hesitate to speculate on the meaning of this, however, although both TPB and I suspected that one of our tastings was less than fresh.

Appetizers came next. First was the antipasto misto, a fairly predictable antipasto with a good variety. Prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, a sharper, hard cheese (perhaps a provolone), and a sopressata (I think) provided the backdrop for marinated red peppers, marinated artichoke, and olives. Again, the plate was fairly standard and had me longing for the variety offered at Tria, or at least the explanation of what was included. We also ordered the smoked salmon blinis, which were sadly stale. Finding ourselves still making our way through the wine, we ordered two more appetizers at the bartender's suggestion, the first a fried eggplant napoleon dish with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella swimming in a red pepper sauce. While tasty in the way that all deep fried foods can be, the prosciutto was lost in the fried batter and scant portioning. Nor did I taste the eggplant. It was, however, hearty enough to stand up to the wine.

The next appetizer was Panorama's take on caprese salad, a salad that I have ordered at every single restaurant in Italy when I was there, a salad that my father often prepared through the summer months as I was growing up, and a salad of which TPB and I bonded over our shared propensity to order. When prepared well, caprese can be heavenly in its straightforward presentation of fresh ingredients: tomato, mozzarella, basil and olive oil. Sadly, Panorama did not rise to the occasion. First, Panorama chose to add what I always find distracting: pesto. Often overpowering, this pesto was actually so mild as to be rendered moot by its addition. Two slices of somewhat dry and flavorless prosciutto likewise contributed little. The mozzarella portioning was small and the tomatoes were a bit overripe. I know, I know, this isn't the season for caprese and I should have known better, but I just couldn't resist it.

The bartender dissuaded us from ordering the scallop appetizer, as he strongly believed that the scallops would be overpowered by the red wine. As true as it might be, I'm also of the mindset that in the right mood, food and wine pairings can be mixed at will. We instead ordered the scallops to take home only to find -- at home -- that the dish featured two fairly small scallops. Two. Perhaps the true reason for his dissuading us. What redeemed the appetizer, however, was the celery root puree, which surpassed any mashed potato dish, for its savory notes of balsamic vinegar and salty creaminess.

We likewise took our entrees home to eat, after good advice from the bartender that the freshly made pastas would not hold up to take home and that the meats were excellent. The veal chop lived up to his promise -- perfectly done, with a sauce that served only to accentuate the meat. I ordered the Pollo Farcito con Prosciutto e Mozzarella, or, chicken with prosciutto and mozzarella, which was rolled up, slightly breaded, and baked. Certainly delicious, although I think it would have benefited from more of a sauce.

With inundation of tapas, and the recent awakening of chefs to pairing foods with wine, however, Panorama seems a bit dated. Given their selection of wines, I longed for food pairing suggestions in portions that complemented the small wine tastes. The menu also feels dated, with a small appetizer selection and uninspired choices otherwise.

Panorama's idea of wine flights remains largely unmatched in the region and because of it and the restaurant's consistently cozy-yet-elegant atmosphere, I would still recommend it.

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