In Eater’s roundup of local writers’ top picks for 2012, I named Beatrice & Woodsley & Panzano my standbys. I’d have said the same last year & the year before that too, pretty much by definition. Granted, there are plenty of places I love equally, for all kinds of reasons. But a place becomes a standby for rather personal ones. It’s not just that everything on the menu appeals but also that you feel so good there: inspired & transported, as in the case of B&W, or utterly relaxed, as at Panzano. And whaddaya know—I’ve been to both in recent weeks, & done as right as ever by both.
If you’ve visited neither in some time, here are a few current items worth trying. At B&W, the wilted-greens cobbler with sausage & cheddar spoonbread (behind the cheese plate, below) boasts that bygone sensibility, that deeply homey savor that is chef Pete List’s hallmark, as though he’d found his recipes written in cursive in a yellowed old notebook, invoking potbellied stoves & well water. (Actually, he does do lots of research on historical American cookery, so there you go.) I once had escargots here that were way too salty, but this batch (pictured right) was spot on, bathed in butter spiked with Pernod & piquillo pepper alongside warm, soft olive bread—enough to sop up all the drippings.
The cod on the left came with bright pea brandade & smoked onions; how the delicately flaky fish stood up to both I can’t fathom, but it did. On the right, earthy, crunchy-velvety feta-&-oat croquettes made a splash amid spaghetti squash in tomato vinaigrette—much like a dish I dug recently at Euclid Hall.
As for Panzano—I usually avoid chefs’ counters, because putting my nose in their business while ignoring the business of the one that brung me strikes me as doubly awkward. But this place is an exception, because it’s too much fun to watch chef Elise Wiggins switch from English to Spanish while balletically navigating the closet-sized open kitchen with her crew.
Like everyone else, I’ve had brussels sprouts in every way, shape & form over the past few years; it seems they, of all things, have finally succeeding in nudging beets out of the top veggie spot. (What’s next? I hope it’s celery. I mean, celery’s key to mirepoix & so forth, but it rarely plays the central role its awesomeness warrants.) But here at year’s end, I’ve had 2 of the best takes on sprouts in quick succession: Ace Eat Serve’s & this one.
Both are fried, because fried! But while Ace’s skews Asian with shishito peppers, sesame seeds, & lime, Panzano’s version has an Italian agrodolce (sweet-sour) thing going on, tossed with toasted pistachios, reduced cider vinegar & rosemary salt & topped with green apple. Unexpectedly refreshing.
We also took delight in a special of baby octopus braised with tomatoes & capers over soft polenta. Set in a pool of spiced oil, this was, conversely, unexpectedly rich. Nothing wrong with that, of course, & Wiggins’ touch with every Italian starch—pasta, polenta, etc.—is so light & smooth.
That goes double for her gnocchi, which we had 2 ways that night: once made with pumpkin & served with the smoked pork chop I named one of my top 10 dishes of 2012, the other sauteed with rabbit confit, tomatoes, mushrooms, & leeks, then sprinkled with gorgonzola. Quite the cool combo, though I was so enamored with the chop I only had room for a few bites.
On that note, may 2013 be full of equally filling moments!