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Jimmy Bradley and Danny Abrams build restaurants that are sort of like Banana Republic. The prices are reasonable, the look is cool (but not too trendy), their places are comfortable, and the style is right for any occasion. Laid back and effortlessly cool, these guys have made a name for themselves with feel-good dining spots like Red Cat, Mermaid Inn and The Harrison. Pace—peace in Italian—is their latest neighborhood restaurant and their first foray into the world of Italian cuisine. And once again they have achieved that rare restaurant trifecta—good vibe, friendly service, and immensely appealing food.Review By: Andrea Strong
Before you get to the dining room—a vast welcoming room with amber mirrors etched with Roman murals—you should make a pitstop at the bar for a cocktail and some snacks. Lit with golden low, golden lighting, you can chill out after a long day over a fierce selection of Italian-inspired cocktails and give your brain a nice break from reality. Bar manager Jim Meehan (who was last at Five Points) has created cocktails like Pantelleria (Plymouth Gin, Fresh Lime Juice, Orange Blossom Water, $9), the Fragola (Prosecco, Macerated Greenmarket Strawberries, $11), the Solstice (Stolichnaya, Punt e Mes, Cranberry Juice, Lucien Jacobs Crème de Cassis $10) and the Pace Wallbanger (Ketel One, Pellegrino Aranciata, Galliano, $11). The entire menu is available at the bar, but there's not need to sit down and eat, order up a few of the terrific paninis, a plate of salami and soppresatta, maybe a few crudos and just sit around drink and nibble, then drink and nibble some more, perhaps flirt shamelessly with your bar neighbors. Pause. Order another round. Repeat. What's nighttime for anyway?
After you are through with the bar, I'd encourage you to make a date to come back and stay for dinner in the expansive Roman-styled dining room and snuggle into the deep chocolate leather banquettes that line the walls. For starters, I'd ask Peter, the sommelier, to help choose a wine. His list is totally Italian and is filled with lots of rare gems from smaller regions, so I would feel free to enlist his help. He's really good at it. Once the wine is ordered, it's time to focus on food.
You'll want to start with some crudo, like the local bass with lemon and pickled onions—simple, bright and delicious—like sunshine on a clear day. Crudos can (and should) be followed by a selection of antipatsti (3 for $12) displayed on ceramic platters in the center of the room. The cippolini agrodolce—sweet circles of caramelized onions mixed with pickled onions—was brilliant—a spry tangle of sweet, sour and pungent flavors. There are other good options here as well like late-harvest radicchio with toasted bread crumbs and hard boiled egg, al dente string beans tossed with almonds, tomatoes and ricotta salata, a nice sharp jumble of brocolli rabe with potato, egg and onion, and simply roasted beets with lemon and herbs that could have used a bit more seasoning.
Chef Joey Campanaro, who was last executive chef at The Harrision, is quite gifted in the pasta department, so I would make sure to have some as a mid-course (they are served only in mid-course size, which is nice cause most of the time its too much food anyway), or one as an app, or order several for the table as entrées. Just make sure you don't skip the pastas. Of the bunch, there are a few not to miss—the agnolotti piemontese—triangular envelopes stuffed to pregnancy with pork and veal in an elegant sauce made from butter and sage that gets accented with the proper amount of acid (lemon) to lighten it up and give it some dimension ($13). I also liked the orecchiette anitra—ear-shaped pasta picked up with a meaty duck ragu, swept up with eggplant and assiago ($14). But my favorite pasta was the buccatini amatriciana ($12)—fat, perfectly cooked spaghetti-like noodles slathered in a lush, almost sexy sauce made from smoked pork and tomatoes. Yes, I think melted tomatoes tossed with smoked pork is sexy. You got a problem with that?
The menu also includes a selection of paninis, which may seem odd as a dinner choice, but go for it. The menu offers about five kinds, and they are miraculously crusty sandwiches, pressed and griddled so the golden bread is really more of a crisp wafer prop for melting ingredients like roasted pork with tallegio and sweet onions ($11), or robiola and arugula ($12). Just order a few (perhaps while you are deciding on a wine), and pass them around the table. They'll be eaten, not to worry.
While much of the food at Pace is great, it is early on and the menu has its ups and downs. The sweetbreads with prosciuto and sage ($22) sounded great, but when they arrived, they were a bit spongy. The stuffed wild boar ($24) was nicely cooked, but it was forgettable, as was the rouget cooked in crazy water, that is no longer on the menu. Far better was the cacciucco—Italy's answer to Bouillabaisse (there are five fish in a classic caccuicco, one for every c in the dish's name)—served in a clay pot with peasant toast and aioli ($24). Sides ($7) like cauliflower roasted Sicilian style with fennel, onion and golden raisins, and bitter broccoli with lemon and chili, were terrific.
Room for dessert should be allotted. There are some fun one here from Larissa Raphael, who used to be the pastry chef at Judson Grill. I loved the zepolles ($7)—sugared fried dough fritters with plum jam and nutella, and the Affogato—a few scoops of homemade vanilla gelato studded with crushed amaretti cookies, served with a hot shot of espresso that you pour over the top, turning it into a great coffee milkshake-styled sundae. A bit messy, but quite yummy.
Entree Price: $20-25
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