Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Turnover

I don't normally write places up after a single visit, but I don't normally make excited calls within minutes of leaving a restaurant, either. So this is an apology of sorts to Panas, for having walked past it every day for months and just having tried it. Where did my resistance to Panas come from? I consider that stretch of P street to be part of my neighborhood. Maybe it was the memory of some dry ones at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market. Perhaps its because I am more of a street food snob than I would care to admit, and "gourmet empanadas" seem a bit of an oxymoron. I clearly forgot the lessons of Ramen in New York.

Panas is tucked away on P street rowhouse, next to TangySweet and below Pizzeria Paradiso's old location. The d├ęcor, in lovely shades of orange and grey, skews heavily towards the modern. Ordering is efficient, the wares are all there for you to see and smell, and there are plenty of combos. I ordered Combo #1, 3 empanadas and a soft drink, which came with dipping sauces and platain chips (the friendly managers/owners are Argentinean and Puerto Rican, respectively, which explains the chips). I certainly liked the look of the empanadas, and appreciated the many salad selections and vegetarian options. The smell of the dessert empanadas, coupled with the back and forth in Spanish, made me homesick.

I sat down with my meal, fully prepared to be underwhelmed. Years of being exposed to the stylings of the Argentinean community in Mexico, coupled with a few trips to Buenos Aires that still have me sending people over to the same street vendors in San Telmo and that one place near Santa Fe have spoiled me rotten. Julia's, that DC institution, fits squarely into my category of food that tastes better when drunk (the bread itself is too stiff and sweet). I love Breadline but their empanadas are the one thing I will never order again.

I ordered what I thought would be a good sampler: Carne (beef, green olives, Spanish peppers, hard boiled eggs, onions, and parsley); Chipotle Steak (Shredded sirloin steak and onions in a spicy chipotle sauce); and Tamal (Corn, onions, farmer cheese, scallions, and roasted jalapenos). Carne is the traditional Argentinean empanada, and I figured it would be a good way to benchmark the place. For dipping sauces I asked for the standard chimichurri, the Argentinean contribution to the world of condiments (a mix of garlic, oregano, parsley and spices), and Aji (yellow hot chili pepper with mayo). Nice to see a nod to Peruvian gastronomy in the mix.

The Tamal empanada (a brilliant concept akin to the pie in cupcake) had me at first bite. It tastes better than anything vegetarian has a right to. The sweetness of the corn contrasts with the salty crust, and the Aji lent it the spicy note that it needed to be truly great, at least to my Mexican palate. Carne had enough olive (something I always miss in the Julia's version) and was served at the perfect temperature thanks to hot plates (other places serve them cold or kill them under a heating lamp). The churri tasted very fresh, and while it was strong, it did not overpower the olives and peppers in the empanada itself. Chipotle Steak was good, but nowhere near as Spicy as I would have wanted it. There are far more adventuresome sounding meat empanadas so next time I'd let the freak flag fly where it may. I might even do a second vegetarian empanada, as the BrieArt, a combination of Brie, mushrooms and artichoke hearts, is savory turnover after my own heart.

The chips are very well done - thin and not overly oily. I left half (well, actually, I kept them in the bag and had them as a mid-afternoon snack). Next time, I'll pick the combo with a salad for a more balanced meal - if they only made choosing the two empanadas easier...

Panas on Urbanspoon
Panas Gourmet Empanadas
2029 P Street, NW
Washington DC 20036
(202) 223-2964
www.panasgourmet.com

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