Tucked away in the small, quaint village/town of North Bennington, Vermont, not far from Bennington College, is one of the finest dining experiences to be had in New England. Pangaea is located in an unassuming streetside building, storefront style with additions, but connoisseurs of good food will not be deterred by that. A far different enjoyable experience awaits inside.
I visited by chance, just passing through, and stopped to get a closer look after seeing the sign "Fine Dining" out front. It was shortly before 6:00 p.m. on a Friday evening and patrons were still arriving so I had my choice of any seat in the house.
There are two parts to Pangaea -- the fine dining restaurant and the "lounge." They function as two separate restaurants with different kitchens so each has it's own food menu, although they do share the same menu for wine and mixed drinks. I decided to try the lounge as I had no idea of what kind of experience I would be offered.
The lounge has a comfortable seating plan and includes a small bar inside a larger room with two anterooms in the "wings" so to speak. There is also an outdoor patio for summer dining. This was March so I chose a table for two in the main room not far from the bar.
I was greeted by a young woman who was our wait staff for dinner. She was quite charming and pleasant, clearly explaining the entire menu as well as the restaurant's concept. Pangaea is a term used in geology referring to the forging of all the earth's land masses into one large "supercontinent" before the period of continental drift. Thus the restaurant implies a fusion of cuisines inspired from around the world. I suppose one might have said "eclectic" but that term has become trite. Somehow "pangaea" accurately reflected my dining experience.
Our server was able to answer most of our questions about the menu with the exception of the Bordeaux wines and so she invited the manager to our table who selected a mid price varietal that was just perfect. By the way Pangaea has a very extensive wine list that should appeal to most anyone's palate so plan on sampling from their wine-by-the-bottle menu. What you don't drink you can always take with you and the wines by the glass offerings are limited. Our Bordeaux was a 2006 from the Medoc region with an 80%/20% Merlot/Cabernet blend. Soft bouquet, medium tannins, and easily a good quality pleasant stand alone selection.
We sampled from their appetizers as we often like to choose small plates paired with a good wine. We shared the quesadilla ($9.00) and the grilled artichoke hearts, olives and pita with red pepper hummus ($9.00). The quesadilla alone was very tasty and came with three toppings on the side -- sour cream, guacamole, and a medium spicy salsa -- which I would order again. We got three grilled artichoke hearts with our second appetizer. They were marvelously marinated and melted in our mouths. The red pepper hummus was very tasty. The after dinner dessert consisted of warm chocolate chip cookies and cappuccino. The cookies were exquisite. The cappuccino was agreeable enough but not a reason for dining here.
The experience was so impressive that we returned on Saturday evening, making reservations in advance. This time we ate at the fine dining side. This side of the restaurant is a large room with no bar. It is painted red and has beautiful architectural details without being gaudy. The feeling is relaxed. Pangaea has a way of avoiding the snobby quality of so many fine dining establishments while making you feel special and at home. There are high ceilings, the tables are spread out so you never feel squeezed in and the overall impression is light and airy. The music on this side is also befitting of a fine dining experience. Upon entering Coltrane's gorgeous tune "Equinox" could be detected in the background. Throughout the evening we were treated to Coltrane, Dinah Washington and a myriad of other straight ahead jazz artists.
Again we ordered a bottle of mid-range French Bordeaux (about $50.00). My wife loved it while I enjoyed the bottle from the night before even better. The difference suggests the range of wines stocked by this restaurant. This one, also from the Medoc region, was a blend of 80% cab and 20% Merlot, thus providing a more masculine taste than the one from the previous evening. As it opened up it became more drinkable and pleasant. Certainly not a disappointment as we once again finished off the bottle.
We ordered two appetizers and two entrees. Included with each entree is a very creative salad. The greens were wrapped in delicate rice paper like a spring roll with a side of udon noodles and red cabbage (I think). Our appetizers consisted of venison accompanied by ravioli stuffed with a delicate goat cheese with an amazing fig sauce and served over mustard greens. The second appetizer was the wild mushroom strudel, a very tasty selection of wild mushrooms rolled into a delicate filo pastry log. Both were outstanding! With the venison I didn't know meat could be that tasty and tender and I'm not much of a red meat carnivore.
Entrees were the filet mignon with lobster tail and the Long Island duck with a superb cherry sauce and risotto. My wife had the filet mignon which she described as cooked to perfection. My duck was equally impressive, very tender and tasty in the cherry sauce. I'm not much of a fan of risotto, and this one seemed to be infused with cheese, so I'd ask for a substitute were I to choose the duck at a future time.
For an after dinner libation I skipped the cappuccino and dessert and retreated to the bar on the lounge side. (While the desserts are tempting I had enough to eat as portions here are quite sufficient.) The bartender served up an intriguing new drink he created -- Hendrix gin mixed with St. Germain and mixed with muddled fresh blueberries and cucumbers, topped off with a splash of club soda on ice. A creative and enjoyable drink for sure but I think if I were to make it I'd leave out the fresh cucumber since Hendrix is already a cucumber infused gin.
Conversation at the bar was easy and inclusive. We didn't feel at all like outsiders. Folks were welcoming and conversations turned to arts and culture in the local area. One secret to the good "craic," as it might be known in Ireland, is the lack of a television blaring overhead, or anywhere for that matter.
Overall this is one of the most surprisingly pleasant dining experiences we've had in a long time and is highly recommended.
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