Monday, July 8, 2013

Pan E Vino Fails to Live Up to its Reputation

Pan E Vino (Italian for bread and wine) has been a reputable dining staple on Providence’s Federal Hill for just over a decade. It’s also recently earned Best Italian Restaurant accolades as voted by Rhode Island Monthly readers. On a stifling July 4th weekend evening, Paul’s Palate ventured down to the Hill to determine if this eatery lived up to its billing.

Compared to nearby restaurant gem Trattoria Zooma, Pan E Vino’s d├ęcor feels woefully outdated, with tacky Mediterranean-themed touched ranging from the unappealing yellow paint on the walls to the even more unappealing Italian-inspired music playing more loudly than one would like through overhead speakers. Even the indoor temperatures resembled the Mediterranean region, as the restaurant’s air condition system inadequately ventilated the back room in which our party was seated. The restaurant aims to establish a rustic, intimate ambience, but with its two small dining rooms and cramped tables, it’s less charming than one would have hoped.

The cuisine itself is hit or miss. A relatively modest portion of calamari fritti ($12) was traditionally served with tomatoes, hot peppers and white balsamic. The squid were far too bready in texture and lacked any hint of the peppers’ promised heat or seasoning.

Entrees fared a bit better, particularly the linguine alla far diavolo ($29), which consisted of a hearty portion of black squid ink pasta, lobster, and spicy San Marzano tomato sauce. The behemoth, 14 oz. bone-in veal chop parmiagiana ($27) was an impressive sight to behold, the Flintstone-sized meat evoking the envy of my dining companions. Breaded and pan-fried, and doused with a slab of melted mozzarella and ragu sauce, the veal was tender and well-executed, if not a tad underseasoned, while the dish would have benefitted from spaghetti in lieu of a handful of hollow short rigatoni pieces to better soak up the zesty sauce.

Sadly, desserts were a dud. A sinful sounding bourbon chocolate fudge cake ($8) was far too dense and dry, while the much heralded golden raising bread pudding ($8) – legendary, according to our server – was an outright disaster. Resembling kugel – a Jewish delicacy that is far tastier – this dish had an inadequately bruleed exterior and a dry, slightly custardy, and lukewarm interior. It seemed as if the dish was overcooked and then left unattended for several minutes prior to being served. Three small dollops of caramel and a smidge of whipped cream seemed to mock me from the plate, only exacerbating this confection’s epic failure.

Cocktails were the highlight of the evening, including a Spring Blossom ($10), which consisted of gluten free Cold River blueberry vodka, St. Germain elderflower liquer, and a wild hibiscus flower plopped into the libation’s center for visual effect. While a touch too sweet for my liking, it was refreshing and potent. A more traditional Campari and grapefruit ($8), served with soda over ice, was an equally enticing, bittersweet delight. Pan E Vino’s extensive, exclusively Italian wine list, which has earned Wine Spectator’s awards, was also impressive.

Service was scattershot. While our server displayed patience and generosity throughout the evening, there were extensive gaps where she went missing, most noticeably following her recommendation of a house special wine that did not arrive until halfway into my main course. Our waitress made no apologies when flagged down by our table about the delay, which represented a significant shift from Trattoria Zooma’s much more polished service, as evidenced by their removal of a slightly late-arriving glass of wine without me even inquiring about it.

Due to its mediocre service and cuisine, Paul’s Palate would rather get his Pan E Vino elsewhere on Federal Hill.