17 Warren St.
Lunch and Dinner
Massimiliano Sarrocchi has been a part-owner and operator of Il Cortile del Re on King Street for nearly 10 years. His successful expansion toward the street with the wine bar at Il Cortile two years ago was a welcome addition. Now he's done it again, with an outpost of Italian goodness on Warren Street called Pane e Vino. His new bride, Natasha, runs the show in the front, while Mr. Sarrocchi keeps things humming in the kitchen. It is a happy, um, marriage.
17 Warren St. has been home to two restaurants prior to Pane e Vino — Zuppa Cafe, followed by 17 W Cafe. The space is fitted well for restaurant operations, with a large outdoor patio and bar just waiting for warmer weather to arrive, and an inviting dining room inside as well. The owner/operators describe the place as a wine bar which happens to serve food, and I suppose that's true, if perhaps selling the food a bit short.
Since it's a wine bar, one might as well start with the wine list. It is divided intelligently into flavor profiles on the white side — think bright and crisp whites, or richly textured whites — while the red side is laid out by origin. The whites include many Italians, but there are many from New Zealand, France, and beyond. Reds are more than half Italian, with France, Spain and the U.S. represented as well. Thirty-two wines are poured by-the-glass — after all, this is a wine bar! Prices are gentle and range from the low $20s to the $70s for a few big reds.
I've been to Pane twice for lunch and can tell you that it is very good. The menu is small enough and large enough at the same time, listing soups, salads, and panini, with a smattering of appetizers and a half-dozen small plates. On one visit, I was drawn to the special soup — white bean, rosemary, and garlic — and ordered a cup of the house white bean as well ($3 each) to explore the differences between them. The special was garlicky and smooth, the beans either pureed or just cooked down, with nice herb flavors, while the menu's "country style soup" is tomato-based and full of tender whole beans, sausage, and a handful of other beans. For our main entrées, we ordered the special salad ($7.50) of smoked salmon and spinach, which was properly-dressed baby spinach surrounded by slices of smoked fish. The dressing was a light, citrusy vinaigrette, applied in just the right amount and tossed to coat the greens. The other dish was the Prosciutto e Funghi panini ($7.50), two delightful slices of bread layered with that wonderful ham, smoked prosciutto, and sautéed mushrooms. Excellent. A mesclun side salad was part of the deal, and again proved to be fresh, dressed right, and very tasty.
A second lunch trip was equally successful, with the Inferno panini (sliced sopressata, arugula, and black peppercorn cheese, $7.50) spicy and fresh, and a side of balsalmic-marinated pearl onions ($2.25, a bargain) generous in portion and very difficult to stop eating. Likewise, the Prosciutto Cotto e Fontana ($7.50) was very good, with the melted fontina cheese playing nicely with the rosemary ham, this time on pita bread. It was on this visit, looking around the pretty dining room, that I learned dinner service had already begun. I guess I must suffer through a dinner here, just to be fair, of course.
Dinner at Pane e Vino is a bit fancier, a bit more expensive, and equally as good as lunch. Speck e Crostini ($7.50) was delightful. Vin Santo pâté on crusty toast, a fabulous appetizer, if a bit light on portion. Baffling was the Duck con Carta da Musica ($7.50), which is duck breast and pecorino romano sandwiched between thin, crispy flatbreads, and topped with an arugula salad. The greens needed more dressing, especially to work with the flatbread's inherent dryness, and overall the dish fell a bit flat — the only thing I ate in three visits that was less than very good.
Entrées brought Couscous #2 ($11.50), the grain-like pasta being covered with a mildly spicy brandy-saffron cream, studded with shrimp, crabmeat, and onions for her, and Baccala Alla Romana ($13.50) for me, which was stewed cod in a complex tomato sauce, also served over couscous. Both were delicious, finding us stealing bites off each other's plate as often as eating off our own. All the fish was fresh, the sauces complementary and innovative, and the plates attractive.
Two other notes. One, the house red wine (Berger 2003 Blaufrankisch, $5.50 per glass) is Austrian — not your first thought when it comes to European red wines, but it's light like a Pinot Noir and goes down easy with most everything on the menu. Also, don't miss the side dishes — $2.50 at lunch and $3.50 at dinner — especially the marinated anchovies and the balsalmic pearl onions. Fantastic stuff.
Early on, Pane e Vino looks like a winner. One can only imagine how nice it will be to dine al fresco once the weather warms up and the produce of spring starts making its appearance on the menu. With the Sarrocchis in the kitchen, it should be quite a treat indeed.