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All Things Unequal

FOOD REVIEW: Menu size distracts from what Pane e Vino does very well.



A huge group gets together for dinner and people don't want to cook. Suggestions are tossed about but the inevitable one or two picky eaters — you know who you are — come into play. Is there a place that will satisfy the indecisive masses?

You might all be covered, albeit loftily, by the slickly renovated Pane e Vino Wine Bar and Trattoria. It's a new space from an old Richmond restaurant family, the Lo Prestis, situated in the fondly remembered Julian's. It's a spot that all types can get down with, although it seems a little confused about what it wants to be.

The amber space is wide, allowing eyes to check out the rectangular bar with four large, flat-screen televisions (sports bar?), a glass case with cheeses and meats (deli?), an open and bright kitchen (bistro?), special chalkboards (wine bar?) and the other diners. The menu is as far-reaching as the decor, covering the aforementioned cheeses and meats, sandwiches, pizzas, seafood, pastas and tapas (Joe Lo Presti's wife's heritage is Seville). Wine choices are a book in volume, vast and vastly priced.

With all this space and sprawl, Pane e Vino manages a regal and quiet dinner air. Our server, doing double-duty as bartender, is formal yet easygoing. He steers us toward tapas of goat cheese and meatballs, but after listening to the group redirects us to artichoke fritti ($7) and spiedini, a tiny meat burrito stuffed with sweet raisins and pine nuts ($7.95). The golf-ball-sized fried artichokes are equally tart and mild. A warm red sauce is served for dipping and should be used liberally. The thinly sliced spiedini is enjoyable and would be exalting if warmer. An order of meatballs ($5.95) is light work, the tangy meat inhaled through approving nods and quick dips to the garlicky white sauce. Everyone is satisfied and satiated.

Running the gamut through the large menu, ravioli is served steaming — not the meat version ordered, but a sweet ricotta with pedestrian but solid tomato sauce. Pounded thin veal zingara ($23), is coated in demiglace with an earthy depth and thick pieces of ham instead of the advertised sage and white wine sauce. The sides of roasted zucchini and crisp wedges of Yukon gold potatoes are highlights. Rack of lamb is discussed among our party but considering an almost $40 price tag, the group decides for a more affordable option, pizza. Best decision of the night, the biancaneve ($11 for small, $19 for large), with its well-appropriated combination of garlic, ricotta, mozzarella and basil is incredibly good. A chewy, thin and unmistakably familiar crust is complemented by a practiced amount of cheese. For a few extra dollars, more toppings can be added, such as a sweet caramelized onion, imported salumi or prosciutto.

Dessert is prosaic. A lemoncello cake ($5) could be enlightening with its spongy cake and light lemon icing but tastes plastic as if the ingredients can't stand up to the talent of the baker. Profiteroles ($5) aren't any more successful.

Being everything to everyone is tough, but the Lo Prestis have shown time and again that they know business, especially Richmond pizza business. It seems like a stick-to-what-you-know-and-do-well approach is their best secret. And who can argue? Almost everyone is happy with better than great pizza. S

Pane e Vino Wine Bar and Trattoria
2617 W. Broad St.
(804) 257-9930
Sunday-Thursday: 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-11 p.m.

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