Pane e Vino - Casually Elegant, But Ultimately Ordinary
Pane e Vino offers a sophisticated atmosphere for date night, but is missing the X factor.
When I tell people I write for the Lorton Patch, they constantly recommend a visit to Pane e Vino in Lorton Station. So, a friend and I stopped by on a recent Friday night.
When entering I was struck by its modern décor. The entrance and bar area is sophisticated, more like a restaurant you might find in Clarendon than out in the suburbs. Adding to the drama of the bar room is a high ceiling and several hanging pendants. The wall along the bar is adorned with wine bottles and the deep red walls evoke images of a jazz club.
The main dining room is the prefect blend of fresh and tradition. The maroon and pale yellow walls connote warmth and freshness. The open kitchen displays a wood-burning stove in stone fireplace juxtaposed to a glass titled counter.
At 8:30 p.m. the dining room crowd was dying down and the bar was filling up. I noticed most of the patrons were couples without children. I imagined this was the typical clientele, unless parents and their kids had left hours earlier.
The bar hopped in the next room, but wasn't too crowded as to become too noisy.
My waitress was prompt and professional, dresses neatly in black. She brought waters with lemon as we looked over the menus, which offered a wide variety of pizza, pasta, meet, fish, poultry and even gluten free pastas.
Appetizers range from $7-12, pizzas from $11-13, and most entrees are under $20.
I decided to try the sampler appetizer. But before it arrived, we received rolls and flat bread with olive oil, spicy red sauce and olives. Although I liked the diversity of the spread, the breads were not hot, and the sauces did not make a huge impression.
This impression followed through the rest of the meal. The sampler consisted of calamari fritti, bruschetta and involtini alla norma, a kind of eggplant Parmesan. Although the tomato sauce always tasted sweet, I thought the food was otherwise bland. The calamari would have been improved with some fresh lemon, and there was not a distinct ricotta in the involtini.
When it came time for dinner I wanted to try to Margarita style pizza, because I figured with the wood stove, pizza would be their specialty. I ordered the Pizza La Bufala, a similar dish to Margarita pizza, but with a cheese the waitress assured me was creamier and would “melt in my mouth.”
However, when my pizza arrived, I still found myself dreaming of the other pizza as well as the restaurant's goat cheese and salad pizza. The Pane e Vino pizza had sweet sauce and fresh basil, but all in all there was something missing. The tomato sauce lacked the complexity of great pizza, yet I liked the consistency of the crust - not too thin or thick and not too chewy. The pizza popped a little more when I added the basil, which was fresh and delicious.
To be fair, my friend pointed out that being from northern New Jersey, I may have been spoiled by outrageously good Italian food. Still, while I've frequented restaurants featured on the Sopranos, I believe one should expect exceptional food.
I tried my friend’s pasta, and have to admit it was nice and al dente. It was also a big dish with enough for him to bring home for another day. That day never came, however, since his brother scarfed it down immediately after my friend returned home.
The dessert menu included tiramisu, 12 kinds of gelato and chocolate cake. I ordered the New York style cheesecake with strawberry and strawberry syrup. It was good, but much like dinner, not extraordinary.
Overall the experience at Pane e Vino was mixed. I wanted to love it, but found the food was only satisfactory and could not compare with the excellent service, interesting atmosphere or my high expectations.