PanZur: Tapas and Then Some in Tivoli
by Peter Davies
Sometimes serendipity is the best guide. While walking up the main street of Tivoli a few weeks ago, we passed a rather understated place called Pan-Zur. We had never heard of it. On its front patio were a number of diners who seemed quietly satisfied. After consulting one of its menus, we were more than surprised by its offerings and more than eager to take our place on the patio.
And we are certainly glad that we did. It’s rare, maybe only once or twice a year, that we both come away from a restaurant fully satisfied by the quality of the meal. In the case of Pan-Zur it is fair to say we were both exhilarated. The menu was original, the execution of the dishes virtually flawless, and the staff, one of them, co-owner Kim Peraza, the chef’s wife, were personable, attentive, and well educated about what was on offer. We were particularly excited to find a chef who not only appreciates black pig but also knows how to make the most of it.
The menu reflects the Catalan origins of the family of chef/owner, Rei Peraza. Indeed, the name Pan-Zur is a tribute to his grandfather, a chef who had some fame in Barcelona. While much of the menu is Spanish-influenced, the offerings are much more varied…in toto, a very original presentation of dishes not usually seen on menus, Spanish or otherwise. This is not a restaurant of the big, bare, elegant plate with a tiny pyramid of food and lots of artistic squiggles, but one in the Mediterranean mode of celebrating food in all its natural deliciousness and bounty.
As you will see, we are unabashed food adventurers. With my years of living and traveling in the Middle East I have developed a very open mind and varied tastes where food is concerned, a predilection shared by Mark. So when potted pig’s head was suggested as a special tapa we went for it (delicious), as well as black fried squid (garbanzo crusted squid cooked in ink aioli, smoked pepper drizzle), also a hit, followed by a perfectly spiced shrimp ajillo—all reluctantly shared. The only tapa of which either of us voiced any disappointment was a “sandwich” of fried green tomato and pork belly. With my gluten allergy, I chose to pass on the bread part and found the fried green tomato and pork belly delicious, but Mark, who fortunately for him, does not share my gluten allergy, felt the filling was overwhelmed by the bread. We ended happily by sharing a “plate”: Octopus (with garbanzo beans, baby fennel, chorizo, citrus, mint, saffron, & vinaigrette). An octopus enthusiast, I was pleased to see it in yet another delicious incarnation.
The menu offers a variety of possibilities for constructing a meal, but the big challenge for us was how to eliminate some of the many enticing dishes. While often in most restaurants I find it difficult to zero in on something I would like to try, at Pan Zur I find myself in a quandary, being pulled in so many directions. Do I want to start with the creamy eggplant-garlic soup with roasted lemon and crème fraiche)? Or, from the “Snacks” category: chip & dip: (crisp pig ears with saffron yoghurt)? Or from the “Tapas” category as described above. Or the Charcuterie category lomo iberico (100% acorn-fed Iberian pig loin), about the tenderest most melt-in-your-mouth morsel you can imagine; or chistorra (grilled sausage, saffron pickled cabbage slaw). While chef Peraza does homage to locavore tastes when possible, he quite rightly turns to Spain for many of his ham and other pork products.
Pork dishes abound in several categories (not for nothing is the corporate name of this restaurant Porcus, LLC). On one recent evening the menu included, in addition to most of the pork dishes mentioned above, a tapa: migas (1 yr old Ozark ham, mushrooms cheddar, poached egg, red eye gravy vinaigrette); heritage pig belly (sherry-cherry molasses glaze), citrus-garlic braised pork (red cabbage slaw), and jamon Serrano (dry cured 9 months, Spain).The pork piece de resistance is a special order 7-hour roasted suckling pig prepared to serve 8 to 10 people. We have not yet found the sympathetic crowd to try this with.
A pork abstaining friend of ours who took our recommendation on Pan Zur observed that if you don’t eat pork you might find yourself feeling a bit hard pressed to assemble a meal. But she managed, and she and her husband loved the meal so much they returned a few nights later for the Wednesday night Prix Fixe menu El Toro Loco (the crazy bull), a meal centering on beef in homage to the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona.
For those not inclined to the pork dishes and other exotica, the regular menu in the Plates category offers wild striped bass, New York Strip steak, and roasted Amish chicken. Even these more standard dishes are seasoned and garnished in highly original (and tasty) ways.
We only regret that we did not sit down and write our restaurant review after our first visit, as now we need to append a full disclosure. On our first visit to Pan-Zur our enthusiasm was utterly free of conflict of interest, but by our second visit, we were proud suppliers of several pigs heads, several pounds of back fat, and pigs feet and tails from our farm’s Ossabaw Island Hogs. We couldn’t be prouder that Chef Peraza found our product worthy as ingredients in his very creative cuisine.
Pan-Zur Restaurant and Wine Bar
Rural Intelligence’s AgriCulture bloggers Peter Davies and Mark Scherzer are the owners of Turkana Farms in Germantown, NY.