April 24, 2008

Ithaca Bites: Pangea

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The word “pangaea” evokes visions of merging continents and a conglomeration of countries combined to form one solitary land mass. The similarly named restaurant (minus the second “a”), nestled within Ithaca’s residential Northside neighborhood, embraces this same concept — in plate form.
The dishes at Pangea incorporate tastes and aromas that draw from every corner of the Earth, from Atlantis to Shangri-La, Babylon to El Dorado; you can find a multitude of flavors which transport your taste buds on a whirlwind rush around the globe. The constantly evolving menu boasts appetizers like mushroom fricassee and grilled squid salad, and entrées include everything from a tamarind-glazed quail to “Poseidon’s mussels.”
The highlight for my party of five was a dish featuring marscapone-filled, balsamic-vinaigrette-drizzled artichoke hearts, a perfect blend of tart and sweet, smooth and warm. The winning entrée was a tie between that night’s special — salmon complemented with squash and dates risotto — and the roasted pork loin paired with black beans, roasted cauliflower and fig sauce. Both were pleasantly cooked-to-order in the in-house wood oven and appropriately sized; they maintained a harmonic balance among atypical tastes.
Pangea’s seasonal menu emphasizes fresh and organic produce. For instance, their winter menu transitions to feature heavy root vegetables and exotic grains. The restaurant always strives to create everything onsite, including their homemade breadsticks, which are served along with a tangy hummus and sliced gingered carrots.
The wine list upholds the restaurant’s flair for adventure, ranging from a pinot noir with berry notes to an Albarino white infused with lemon and grapefruit. Yet the classic merlot with nutty hints seemed the best complement to the already flamboyant dishes. The desserts provide a strong finish, including experimental blends such as coconut crème brulée and chocolate chipotle cake with chili-espresso ice cream.
The biggest drawback to the restaurant is its incredibly slow service; dishes take eternities to arrive, and the wait staff seems to disappear for hours on end. The sauces, while abundant in tastes, are often heavily poured onto dishes, overpowering already very flavorful, rich foods and amounting to a not-so-delicate presentation. And though the atmosphere is quaint and inviting, the proximity of seats to one another is a little too close for comfort — conversations from other tables continually interject into others.
Overall, Pangea delivers a delightfully varied spectrum of fine dining foods, elegantly prepared and combined with a very Ithacan, slightly international panache. This, paired with an ethereal yet homely ambiance, contributes to a great transnational escape.