Tivoli, NY 12583
Reservations: 845 757 1071
Dinner ~ Tuesday through Sunday
Panzur has been on our "wish list" of new restaurants for quite some time. Chef Rei Peraza, who owns the restaurant with his wife Kim, have been the talk of the town since they opened two years ago. Last week we found ourselves in Tivoli attending a show at Tangent Arts' Carpenter Theatre, and we took advantage of the opportunity to have dinner. It was love at first sight.
The rustic dining room surrounds a large bar in the center of the restaurant. At the rear of the room is a large blackboard listing the evening's specials, and a carving table holding a slicer, baskets of fresh bread, and a whole cured ham ready for the knife. The ham on display Thursday, in all its porcine glory, was a "Surryano", one of my favorite domestic artisanal hams from Surry Virginia. The Peraza's also offer Spanish Jamon Serrano (ham) along with a fabulous selection of the chef's own house made charcuterie. The man knows his way around a pig.
We started at the bar with our new favorite bartender Jessica, and a glass of macabeo / chardonnay from Spain's Yecla region ($9). The wine list and the menu at Panzur reflect Chef Peraza's Spanish roots, with hints of Basque influence, and an obvious genetic predisposition to pork products. Jessica's enthusiasm for the evening's special appetizer of potted pig head could not be ignored, and I ordered a plate to sample while we perused the menu. The dish arrived in a small hinged canning jar surrounded by toasted baguette slices. The noggin parts had been blended with herbs and braised into submission and covered with savory meat jelly topped with chopped chives. The dish was incredibly rich with flavors bursting from a days worth of braising, and much too much for one diner. Plan on sharing.
Astute readers will have also observed that this dish does not go with white wine, so I had my excuse to move on to a glass of Finca San Martin Tempranillo. The wine was a crianza - the youngest and fruitiest of the Rioja's - and it was wonderful company for the potted pork and what was to follow. Next up was a small plate of rabbit stuffed empanada, dusted with a delicate white "ash" made from seasonal spring ramps, a novel variation on the tapas classic if ever there was one.
The next dish took inspiration from another Spanish classic - calamares en su tinta - and turned it on its head. Instead of braising the squid in its own ink, the briny liquid was woven into the coating, and also blended into the spicy aioli that accompanied the impossibly tender fried morsels of juvenile squid - called chipperones. Some describe the flavor of squid ink as "tasting the ocean", and this dish comes very close to that description. Wonderful stuff (for $15).
A dish of sauteed swiss chard ($13) plated with roasted baby fingerling potatoes was a perfect match for slices of the Surryano ham ($18) that had been beckoning to me from the carving table ever since we walked in the door.
With some advance notice the kitchen will prepare some traditional communal fare like paella or whole roasted pig, and I know that we will find some reason to take advantage of that offer sometime soon. As we finished our meal we asked Jessica for glass of Sambuca to share with our coffee. We were very disappointed to hear her response: the restaurant does not carry Sambuca. What happened next is what makes great restaurants even greater.
Two people appeared behind the bar and placed a glass in front of is. They introduced themselves as the proprietors - Rei and Kim. Having overheard our conversation about the Sambuca, they wanted to make amends, and they wanted us to try this instead. It was glass of iced vermouth. Not any vermouth, but a glass of Antica Formula Carpano vermouth. I know from experience that this elixir is extremely difficult to obtain. I know because I tried for a month to find a bottle after having a Negroni cocktail at Del Posto in New York that was the best Negroni I had ever tasted - made with this vermouth. Lemons into lemonade and the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.
It was a major mistake to wait for a reason to be in Tivoli to have dinner at Panzur. Panzur is reason enough to go to Tivoli (along with the wonderful theater group - Tangent Arts). We will add Panzur to our list of regular dining destinations.The Peraza's have weaved together a delightful combination of great food, a wonderful "bistro style" wine list, generous hospitality and friendly service, in a most comfortable setting. I'm adding Panzur to our "Top Ten Hudson Valley Favorites" list. Do try it soon.