Is it POW! Or is it BREAD! Or is it just pão. I don't know the intention of the owners, but pão means bread in Portuguese and this is not a bakery.
PAO! is a restaurant in SoHo on the corner of Spring and Greenwich Streets. The windows and walls open up onto the street allowing al fresco dining and adds to the space with café tables on the side walk. It's a pretty quiet corner with a few other places in the neighborhood with a similar attitude. PAO! serves traditional Portuguese dishes or ingredients in more updated and elegant (or less rustic - whichever point of view you prefer) preparations. It's a young spot with young diners doing what young people do - explore. There's an air of hey, what is Portuguese food, and also there's the I have a friend whose Portuguese or lastly they saw something on TV about Portuguese food or culture and are now curious to learn more. Through a number of ways people are finding the cuisine and the culture, and PAO!, like Alfama now located in Upper Midtown East, is serving a hipper, more sophisticated version. This is not your parents or vavô's Portuguese food. The fact is that in Portugal you'll find the same trend. It's no different from other countries when the population travels and develops a more educated palette that is curious and desirous of more than what they grew up with eating. This happens on both sides of the menu - chefs and diners.
It was raining like crazy on a hot Sunday night when I got to the corner where PAO! sits and found it almost full. Luckily, there was an open table on the sidewalk, just under the canopy - perfect. I order a glass a Portuguese wine (from Alentejo) and chilled out reading the news before hitting the menu. Speaking of which, the menu is what I would call the perfect size. Some places give you a list a mile long that takes you 15 minutes just to get through it. Why? There is no way that any restaurant is prepared to make any of 30-50 dishes and make them well - and I don't mean make them OK, I'm not here for OK. PAO! has a nice focused menu with a listing that features an interesting mix of ingredients.
vieiras em tomatada com xarope de porto
Continuing on my summer seafood extravaganza, my chosen appetizer was the scallops with tomato compote and port wine syrup. The dish looks pretty. I tried each ingredient separately and them started mixing it up afterward. The unfortunate thing about eating scallops in a restaurant- if you've been spoiled like I have and have eaten fresh, truly fresh, scallops right out of New Bedford - you know that no restaurant scallop is as SWEET as fresh from the sea. I have a cousin that works on a scallop boat and once in a while he's bring us some fresh scallops - you just have no idea. If you're unaware, before any scallop hits the market, they're fattened up with water to add weight and maybe preserve them longer, too. But, having said that, these scallops were pretty good. They weren't super-seared so as to caramelize, but there was a very thin crispy crunchy layer that was accented by cracked white pepper resulting in a really tasty scallop. The tomato compote was good and tangy, and the sautéd onion and garlic underneath the compote reminds you of the Portuguese origins of this dish.
Cherne Assado com Nabinhos and Alecrim
I dined at PAO! about a year ago and had the rabbit, the same that on the menu today. It was really good, with a common approach of mixing small game with fruit or sweet ingredients. Its works well most of the time and did here. But it's summer and I'm still craving seafood and fish, so it's the striped bass today. The fish is served in two fillets, atop a bed of wilted spinach and small turnips and beets halved and spread around, and the server pours a vessel with the rosemary broth atop the entire thing. The smells are fragrant and light. A sip of the broth to start and I make my way around each ingredient. The bitter earthiness of spinach and turnips is interesting and obvious when I move onto the sweet, sugarcane-like beets. Then to mixed them all up in a bite with the salty fish ... real good. The fish was crispy on the outside, especially the skin which was like a potato chip, and inside the fish was moist and savory. Everything was well-seasoned with the use of cracked white pepper evident through both dishes giving each a little bit of a unexpected bite.
322 Sprint Street
Manhattan NY 10013