A coworker recently asked me about Torchon Bistro, a delightful restaurant tucked into a Dimond Boulevard strip mall. I raved about the food and the classy ambiance and eagerly encouraged patronage.
I was sadly surprised a week later when the same coworker said she attempted to go, but alas, Torchon was closed. Like, for good.
The restaurant business is tough. High-end establishments like Torchon close as often as quaint mom-and-pops like Agave, the taco shop on Fireweed that had shuttered up just before this magazine’s favorable review hit the racks. Recently, the to-your-door salad delivery company Salad Box closed both its downtown restaurant and its van service.
An Ohio State study found something like 60 percent of new restaurants will close within three years. Some industry folks put that figure much higher.
The bottom line: It’s hard for a new business to find its niche, pull a crowd, build a loyal flock of regulars, and grow over time. So when a new place opens, and you like it, go. Go, go again, and keep going.
And with that, please go to downtown’s Pangea Restaurant and Lounge.
Pangea opened in January with two chefs at the helm. Chef Robert Lewis is a food scene veteran, the former chef and owner of Maxine’s Fireweed Bistro. Chef Mike Dodge owned and headed up Hott Stixx.
Their creation, Pangea, is an extraordinarily unique restaurant. Its name appropriately suggests an inclusive worldliness that is reflected in the exciting eclecticism of the menu.
On their website, the chefs say their goal is to use “authentic regional cuisine” to deliver innovative yet “simple, straightforward food using the best and freshest local ingredients available.” Menu options support this ambition, demonstrating a worshipful, global approach to food.
On a recent weekday evening, a friend and I settled in at Pangea’s bar. The restaurant occupies one large, open space that diners may recall from when tapas bar Café Savannah held this property. I recognized some veteran faces among the waitstaff – wine experts and longtime industry employees who have served tenures at other high-end establishments. This is usually a good sign.
The first thing we were drawn to was the 20 small plates available on the dinner menu. Inventive and interesting, the tantalizing treats ranged from a harissa carrot dish with honey, goat cheese and pine nuts, to veal cheeks with a tomato ragout.
Looking for an Anchorage spot that serves trendy, tasty bone marrow? Pangea’s bone marrow au poivre comes with mushrooms, cognac, crème, pepper, a petite local green salad, and toasted sourdough. This is one of the more complex of the small plates; most boast only a handful of ingredients and are simply delicious in their simplicity.
We tried the roasted Brussel sprouts ($9), served with a creamy fondue of melted Gruyere, accompanied by a small bowl of stoneground mustard. The crunchy-but-soft sprouts were delectable when dunked in the rich cheese, then dipped into the slightly spicy mustard.
Next up, the smashed fingerlings ($12. Fried in duck fat, the potatoes came served atop a creamy pool of mellow Raclette cheese, with salty tendrils of ham. The potatoes were perfectly crispy on the outside soft on the inside, and again, the flavor pairings were sensible and complimentary.
Finally, for something lighter, we narrowed the field of six awesome-sounding salads to the raw zucchini salad ($12). This was a gorgeous disk, composed of long ribbons of zucchini, tossed in mint and walnut pesto, Moroccan sardines in olive oil, capers, craisins, salty sheep’s milk feta, and crispy garbanzo beans.
After these beautiful plates and a glass of wine apiece, we left Pangea sated, curious, and excited to return – especially considering we didn’t even make it near the entrees, which include top-shelf options like Peking-style roasted duck, a Moroccan goat dish, and a banana and cashew crusted cod in curry sauce.
For diners looking for deals, consider hitting Pangea instead for lunch, when most dishes cost between $11 and $15. The restaurant also features weekend brunches. Pangea would make an excellent spot for a calming stopover after an afternoon of holiday shopping, a great destination for a date night, or an inviting venue for diners who are looking to expand pedestrian palettes and try something more interesting and special.
Pangea is located at 508 W. Sixth Ave. For more information, visit pangearestaurantandlounge.com. For same-day reservations, call (907) 222-3949.