This is one of those restaurants that catches you off guard. The name could mean a number of things, and the execution has a lot more heart behind it than you would think. I was most impressed with the dedication to organic, sustainable, home-made cooking in here, yet it’s not something that is proudly featured, and I think it should be. The Chef (Harry Stoehr) comes from a farmtown in Wisconsin, and spoke to us for a bit about how he used to barter ingredients with other farmers when he was growing up because they didn’t have supermarkets. Whoa. Gives that whole farm-to-table thing new meaning, huh? Integrity aside, I wasn’t blown away by everything here, but there were a few standout dishes and I enjoyed the cocktails which, of course, were mixed with house-made tonics.
The Pan American is popular for their vegan and gluten free options, which include these crispy, salty vegetable chips. Rudy and I shared the root vegetable chips (think Terra chips with all the pretty purple and orange colors) and the carrot chips which were playfully dubbed “chicharrons”. Chicharrons are a traditional Latin snack made of fried pork rinds (slightly less healthy than carrots). They were crispy and the root vegetable chips were paper thin, light as air and pleasantly salty. Supposedly The Pan American makes great kale chips too, but we didn’t get to try those. Waahhh..
The guacamole was excellent, as were the chips for dipping…again, everything made in-house. The chips were very salty, but we really didn’t have a problem with that. The guac was buttery with a nice hint of onion, but it needed a little more heat. And look at the little lime bull. How cute is he?
The cocktails we were sipping at this point were the Rosie Palmer, which is a play on the Arnold Palmer, and is made with house-made hibiscus syrup, lemon and Absolut wild tea vodka. On the sweet side and smelled a little like a bouquet of flowers, but it was nice. A good drink to sip, but I wouldn’t be able to have more than one due to the sweetness. Rudy had the Dark and Stormy, made with (you guessed it!) house-made ginger beer. It was like a sweet and spicy explosion in my mouth. And that is the most action I have gotten this week. Moving on…
Now would be a good time to discuss some meat. Grass-fed beef tenderloin carpaccio is sliced super thin, topped with grated hard boiled egg, garlic vinaigrette and parmesan cheese crisps. I didn’t taste too much of the garlic, but the beef itself had a nice flavor, and I just so happen to be obsessed with hard boiled eggs and cheese, so this one won me over. The salmon appetizer we had was not the best – a little on the fishy side. Not to mention I am over the foam thing; I know some people like it, but I personally never got the hype about “foam”. It kind of reminds me of soap suds on my plate, which can be pretty unappetizing. Soap and salmon, anyone?
In terms of the entrees, we tried the pork over parsnip puree and roasted vegetables. Mmm this was like all the flavors of Fall that I love. The pork had a great crust on the outside that was a little sweet, and for that cut of pork, the meat wasn’t dry at all, which it so often can be. The parsnip puree was like butter. Rudy thought it was mashed potatoes because they were so creamy. Apparently Chef Harry puts the mashed parsnips through a chinoise, which is like a sieve with a very fine mesh, and it makes the texture incredibly smooth with zero lumps. Awesome. The vegetables and mushrooms were browned perfectly – sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and little baby brussel sprouts. I could eat roasted vegetables like that all day. I’m sure they were given a generous dollop of butter, but I am ok with that.
The shrimp steamed in chardonnay over stuffing was tricky, because I liked the stuffing more than the shrimp. The shrimp tasted a little bland, but the stuffing was awesome; an interesting mixture of oysters, mushrooms, and lobster, I would trade my stove top in for that any day. I know it sounds weird but believe me, it was tasty.
This next and final portion will be all about the sweets, and what interesting sweets they were. We tried something called The Impossible Cake, which is a flourless chocolate cake on the bottom (gluten free!) and a layer of flan on top. Supposedly the Mexican traditional dessert is called The Impossible Cake because it’s near-impossible to get flan to stay on top of a cake. If you don’t know what flan is, it’s like a molded custard with dulce de leche on top. And dulce de leche is like a caramel sauce made from sweetened or condensed milk. God, go you know anything?? Anyway, it was yum. I am not big on flan, so if I had to eat it, I would prefer to eat it this way. On top of chocolate.
The other dessert was bizarre looking, and I was a little afraid to touch it because it looked like it might pop. The “Mango Bomb” was this shiny, globular, yellow mound with dots of “strawberry soda” on the plate. The house-made strawberry soda tasted just like a smoothie, and when you cut into the mound, it didn’t pop or ooze. Yay! It was an almond sponge cake with coconut “snow pudding” which is just super whipped pudding to make it extra fluffy, and a bit of coconut milk and lime juice. Sounds strange and certainly looks strange, but it was really good! I normally don’t like tropical flavors like coconut and mango THAT much, but this was light, refreshing and a little tart. Two thumbs up.
The Pan American needs to put more emphasis on their preparation and ingredients. The sustainable, organic, vegan movement is pretty big right now, and I think if more people knew about it, they’d be into it. On a non-food related note, I was digging the jams in here too; a mix of top 40 hits and old 50’s tunes. I’ll take a little Kanye with a side of The Temptations any day!
The Pan American
202 Mott Street