Around the world in 80 bites

So tonight my date and I headed over to Pangea for their four-course beer pairing prix fixe dinner… something it appears they will be doing the first Monday of each month. The whole thing was $30 per person, and for what we got, I have to say this has got to be one of the best dining values here in the metro area.

(Now might be a good time to mention again that I’m not a professional food writer, nor do I play one on TV. This review is purely for my own amusement. Also, I am not a professional photographer, a fact that will be sadly apparent as soon as you go behind the cut. I apologize for the terrible quality of the photos… I didn’t want to flash in the dining room, and I need to learn how to use my camera better. Still, you’ll get a general idea of what we saw…)

We arrived just past 6:30pm (we were told we could show up anytime between 5:30 and 8pm; reservations were required). The dining area was about 3/4 full, lights low and energy high, with Enya providing the background music. We were (surprise!) recognized by owners Wendy and Martin Rudderforth from our previous visit. Those danged Pepsi water cups appeared right away, along with a paper menu and a little table flag (we were Peru for the night). The first beer, and then soup, were delivered soon after we sat down.

First course
Canada: Pumpkin soup, maple créme fraiche, walnut toast; Blanche de Chambly
IMG_2961.JPG

We got the beer first, and it was a tickly, bubbly light white beer, tangy and refreshing. The golden soup followed, with a spidery white design of the créme fraiche. I got a whiff of nutmeg first, then an almost carroty sweetness, gingery, rich and robust. The whole wheat walnut toast was a nice bit of crunch to go with the generous serving of soup, and the beer reflected the bright notes of the soup’s spicing quite nicely.

Second course
Czeck Republic: Pork schnitzel, sauerkraut, potato dumplings; Staropramen
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I’m going to expose myself (again) as a total rube, and admit that I don’t think I’ve ever had schnitzel before. Good stuff! This seemed to be a pork cutlet, pounded flat, breaded and, I believe, pan-fried to a caramel brown. It was fork-tender, yet hearty. The crumbs were thickly applied but certainly didn’t drown out the flavorful pork. There was a dollop of spicy mustard, and a mouth-watering relish of apple and bacon (I think the server called it a “remoulade”)… I was wishing for more of both, because they all three went together so beautifully!

The dumpling was more of a big potato pancake thing. I don’t know, I’m not that experienced yet, but I sort of expected a dumpling to be cooked in broth or soup? This one seemed to have been toasted in a pan, flattened on both sides. It was clearly potato, but there was more in there, too… something starchy, flour and such? An interesting idea, but I found myself wishing for some gravy to dunk it in.

The sauerkraut was freshly made, and a surprise… usually I’m not that fond of the stuff. But I ate all of it, and discovered it to be a welcome complement to the potato and pork.

I found the Staropramen to start off towards a musky note, almost skunky, but then it smoothed out and the strong hoppy flavor was able to stand up to the more powerful elements of the food. My husband said it reminded him of Anchor Steam.

Third course
Scotland: Rack of lamb, mushroom skirlie, raspberries; McEwans Scotch Ale
IMG_2966.JPG

I was looking forward to this. I’ve enjoyed the gamier meats (duck, venison) paired with fruit before, so the idea of lamb and raspberries sounded interesting. Taking a sip of the ale, I could completely understand the direction of this course towards fruit… it was sweet, even though it was so dark.

The lamb was gorgeous, with a spectacular range of color. It wasn’t seasoned much that I could ascertain, and I do admit to tossing a dash of salt onto it. The red potatoes were similarly unadorned, which let the little cake of mushrooms, oats and (onions? leeks? something like that) underneath the lamb, and the raspberry drizzle around it, carry the flavors. The little mushrooms were toothsome and earthy, right at home with the nutty oats. And the bright color and tang of the berry was the tiny piccolo soaring over the other darker notes. A remarkable work of art, both visually and in the mouth.

Fourth course
Greece: Duo of baklava with lemon ice cream; Mythos lager
IMG_2968.JPG

This was fun… a plate of two pieces of phyllo sculpture and a mound of soft yellow ice cream, all on a pale green strip of thin cucumber. My only suggestion here would be to freeze the ice cream just a little bit harder, so it won’t melt so much right away. The ice cream’s first taste was of almond, with a gentle drift of lemon coming behind… it wasn’t the lemon blast of a sorbet, which I was wondering how the heck would work in a dairy-based recipe without curdling everything beyond recognition. The square baklava (baklavum?) was made up of three layers of light, airy, crisp phyllo sandwiching a raisin filling between them. The rolled one, a bit stickier than the other, had a nutty filling made of walnuts and pistachios. Neither were coated in the messy, far-too-sweet coverings you see on commercial baklava… both were light and delicate. My sweetie, the amateur pastry chef, said “Boy, these guys know what to do with phyllo!”

The lager was light and flavorful, and a good match for the food, but still a bit much for me on top of the gentle sweetness of the desserts, so I sampled it and gave the rest to my dining partner, who was more than happy to take care of it for me (I was driving, too…).

The only lapse in service was a long wait between the first and second courses, which showed up even more when the other courses were served almost as quickly as we finished the preceding plate. However, I’ll chalk it up to the dining room filling up to capacity while we waiting, and to be honest that was a good thing to see. I don’t know how much advertising these folks are doing, but tonight they were booked solid… if you’re interested in trying out one of these beer pairing dinners in December, I wouldn’t dawdle on making that reservation. We’d do it, but we ARE trying to visit as many different places as possible on a budget… however, I will gladly give a big thumbs-up to anyone who asks about Pangea, and am looking forward to returning there when we have out-of-town guests we want to impress without breaking the bank.

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    (This is the dining partner she mentioned in the article.)

    I like Baklava, but I don’t think I’ve ever had it freshly prepared. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do the store-bought stuff after getting to try the real deal. It was ethereal, brittle and crunchy crisp one moment, and melting away to nothing on your tongue the next.

    I’m gonna have to try doing something with phyllo now.

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