During Midtown Restaurant Week, Mario and I were looking for a restaurant we hadn’t visited with a menu that ventured beyond the chicken/fish/steak on most restaurant week menus. Enter Pacci Ristorante, a new-ish Italian eatery adjacent to the Hotel Palomar. The restaurant is so named for its signature carpaccios, none of which we actually tried on this visit (unfortunately). Despite that, we had a really excellent meal, which started with an amuse of watermelon and prosciutto with balsamic drizzle:
Neither of us were particularly impressed with the amuse-bouche–the melon was sweet but the prosciutto was lackluster and a little overly chewy.
Luckily, from here our meal only improved, beginning with our appetizers: Watercress & Pear Salad (Parmesan tuile, Gorgonzola mousse, candied walnuts), and Papardelle Bolognese in a classic slow braised meat sauce.
Mario’s papardelle pasta was made fresh in-house, and you could really taste it. It was probably a little less than al dente, but the rich and meaty bolognese made up for any minor shortcomings in the pasta. My pear and watercress salad was good–when I could get a bite with all the components. Watercress is a nice spicy salad green, but the long stems made it pretty unwieldy to eat. Anyone have advice on eating non-lettuce-shaped salad greens? I did, however, love the contrast between the sweet pear and walnuts and the savory gorgonzola (which was in chunks, not a mousse).
For entrees, I convinced Mario to try the Lavender Brown Sugar Glazed Pork Belly with creamy polenta–which was like pulling teeth: he’s uncomfortable with unfamiliar cuts of meat. I had to use “It’s just like bacon” to seal the deal. I went with the gnocchi (sage brown butter, mushroom, Gorgonzola):
Mario went crazy over the glazed pork belly. The one small bite I got out of him was pretty tasty, but I really can’t speak much on it beyond that. He also liked the sweet roasted corn and polenta that went along with the pork belly–so much so that the plate was very much empty by the end of our meal. My gnocchi were like little plush pillows surrounded by umami. I love when things can kind of trick your mind/stomach; the gnocchi managed to be simultaneously light yet dense enough that I was full halfway through the bowl. It was a stroke of [accidental] genius on my part to carry over the gorgonzola from my app to the entree, and it worked well yet again with the mushrooms and brown butter sauce.
Though I was nearly full to bursting, there’s always room for dessert (plus it’s included on the restaurant week menu). We went for the White Chocolate Pretzel Gelato with pretzel brittle and our server’s recommendation of Buttermilk Panna Cotta (anisette, blueberry, Mascarpone apricot, pistachio):
There was no denying that either white chocolate or pretzel was present in my dessert, in fact, it almost seemed like there was more “stuff” than actual gelato there. I definitely think they need to tone it down a tad on the mix-ins. We first tested to see if it held up to Top Chef Masters judge Jay Rayner‘s description: “A good panna cotta, if it’s set right, is meant to wobble like a woman’s breasts.” It did. After this scientific analysis, Mario gave it a taste. It was only slightly sweet, which was offset well with the fresh fruit on top. Kind of like a yogurt, really. I’m not sure if panna cotta is supposed to taste like yogurt, but regardless, it was a really nice dessert.
We enjoyed our meal at Pacci and really like the ambiance–when we first arrived. The dining room is really open and has high ceilings, so by the end of the evening it was getting quite loud. This might simply be attributed to the fact that it was restaurant week, but I could easily see the restaurant being at capacity on a weekend evening. The decor is really nice and the place has kind of a romantic vibe, but keep the noise level in mind if you’re planning on wining and dining someone. In addition to regular lunch and dinner service, Pacci also serves breakfast every day (I guess by virtue of it being a hotel restaurant) and brunch on weekends.