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Local Notable: Rei Peraza

Panzur

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Photo by David Morris Cunningham.
  • Photo by David Morris Cunningham.

Panzur Restaurant and Wine Bar is still a baby, having just opened in May of last year. If you don’t understand the restaurant’s name, it’s not because you’re uncultured—it’s a combination of Chef Rei Peraza’s grandfather’s last name, Manzur, and the Spanish word for “belly,” panza. While Peraza never got the chance to cook with his grandfather, his restaurant honors his memory.

After working as a chef for prominent companies like Microsoft, Peraza slowed down with Panzur. The menu is modified almost every day, partly because local produce is ever-changing. Seasonality is one of the main reasons why Peraza chose the Hudson Valley. Every well-defined time of the year brings with it new products, flavors, and dishes. This is every chef’s dream, to cook what they want, when they want, and still run a booming business. “Here, you do what you want and people show up if they like it,” bartender Curtis Hancock says. He explains that since Tivoli is such a small town, Panzur’s clients aren’t exactly stumbling upon the establishment. Instead, they’re seeking it out and purposefully making reservations.

Hancock mixes up the day’s specialty cocktail, a Honeydew Cobble, combining Fino sherry with muddled honeydew and an orange slice. Proving that he’s a true mixologist, he gives a little history as he pours. In the 1800s, cobbles required just two components: ice and a straw, both of which were rare novelties. It seems that you can ask this guy anything about what’s behind his bar, and he’ll have an answer. Patrons even seem to test this theory out, putting their own knowledge on display and daring him to keep up (which he does, flawlessly). Panzur’s wine list is mostly Spanish, with some French and Latin varietals thrown in. Beer drinkers won’t find Bud on tap. Instead, there are brews like Narragansett Summer Ale from Providence and Greenflash IPA from San Diego.

Sticking to the theme of a traditional Spanish tapas bar, there’s a carving station with bread, cheese, and meat set up near the back wall. Manager Jeffrey Boyle confidently says that even though Panzur is a bit out of the way, it still blows most Manhattan restaurants out of the water. He would know, too, since he works at one such city joint during the week.

Servers strongly recommend the crispy pig belly tapas plate, served with a sherry-cherry glaze. There are lists of cheese, ham, and charcuterie choices, as well as small plates like spring garlic soup and marinated octopus. Steak frites are served with malaby pepper butter, bacon pearl onion confit, and a red wine reduction. Lemon-thyme flan is accompanied by French press coffee. The dessert menu has two pages full of recommendations for cheese, sherry, dessert wine, and digestives.

Four square orange panels display graffiti art along the wall. Several small, pastoral tables and chairs line up to create one long table down the center of the main dining room. Seats by the window that look out on Broadway have cushy gray pillows that I suspect patrons never want to get up from.

What you have to admire most about Peraza is his honest approach to Epicureanism. Pleasure is front and center. You can eat when you’re not hungry, drink when you’re not thirsty. He encourages everyone to enjoy cuisine simply because it tastes good.
Panzur.com

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