Panevino Restaurant – Livingston NJ
Going back at the turn of the century, say 1999-2000 I wanted to impress a doctor I was dating. She was a dentist, and me never having a cavity wanted to make this first date special. So, I took her to a place mutually local for both of us and hoped for the best. It was so good that in fact, this was my go-to restaurant to impress anyone I felt needed impressing. Even then I remember them serving warm bread and authentic thin packaged breadsticks, which you would have seen served if you were in Italy today.
I have to admit, its been at least 10 years since I had been there. For no other reason except that there was no one local I wanted to impress, and with so many great restaurants, I felt I’ve already explored it. Well, I was wrong. Today at the last minute I had to meet a dear friend in this very area, she is part Italian (from the old world) and I thought this would be a good attempt. After all, this place has been here for nearly 15 years (that I know of), it has to be doing something right, right? Well they are. They still have white tablecloths and napkins, reasonable prices, and they even installed a brick oven.
There is one item at the top of the lunch menu which catches my eye. The Fritto Misto… mixed fried appetizers. $21 seems a bit much for an appetizer for two, but if you take a look, its a huge portion which could probably feed 3-4 and includes 2 arancini, 4 fried mozzarella balls, 4 battered fried veggies and of course a generous amount of fried calamari. The marinara sauce it was served with my guest really liked. As for me, I just like fresh lemon, which I had to request. The arancini was clearly the winner of this plate. The calamari were perfection, as were the mozzarella balls, however, the arancini was smaller than golf ball, perfectly formed and filled with tasty risotto, mini peas and just a touch of veal in tomato sauce. Probably the best I’ve had outside of Italy. But the key point here is, they are not the size of a baseball, the fact that they are small makes them that much more enjoyable without filling up for other things like the Margherita pizza from a brick oven.
Thin crust, chewy, brick charred flavor, fresh basil and a great sauce, its clearly a winner. The only problem I find with these brick oven places is that the cheese does not fully melt and or soon becomes too solid and slips off the pizza. I certainly would not mind if they kept it in there a minute longer to fully melt the cheese and if the bottom crust got crisper, however I know most don’t like the crust cooked too much. Either way, its a great pizza for $14.
I’ve had lunch in 4 different places and 3 different counties these past 2 weeks, all in similar neighborhoods. It seems like its very hard to walk out without spending less than $45, even if you skip the glass of beer or wine. So I guess that is the going rate for a lunch that is convenient, fair, but most importantly, great atmosphere, friendly and food that is noteworthy.
All I can say is, I will be back for dinner, as they offer a very wide selection of dishes that stray from your mainstream Italian fare. Additionally, they serve wine, a full menu of specialty Martinis and even Sangria. You really can’t go wrong here as long as you are willing to pay the going price for good food in a pleasant atmosphere, which is not over the top.