THE WONDER OF IT ALL: Chef Susan Regis does wonderful things at Pava.
I still don’t get the thing about restaurants in clothing stores. First I worry about wearing the right clothes, and then I worry about getting food on them. Fashionistas tell you to get the latest styles; foodies chase the old-time flavors. But Tess Enright and Carlos Pava, who have put this restaurant next to their Tess & Carlos boutique, get the food thing. If you need to get the top designers for a clothing store, then you need to get a top chef for your restaurant. So they got Susan Regis (previously reviewed at the lamented Biba and at UpStairs on the Square), who does wonderful things here.
Here’s her breadbasket: big sheets of cracker bread as thin as cardboard, but flavorful with wheat and coated with oil, and micro rolls sweet with raisins and fennel. And here’s her pour of extra-virgin olive oil: a square saucer with a little of the green, fruity stuff slowly diffusing into the golden, garlic-infused kind.
If that’s not enough wow for you, go directly to the pizzas, such as the pizza rosso ($15). There’s a wood-fired brick oven in this little place, and Puck me no Wolfgangs, English me no Todds — this is what thin-crust pizza is supposed to be: thin, crisp, and slightly charred beneath, all fresh-bread flavor at the rim. The toppings are smoked tomato, with more tomato than smoke in the flavor, and “Pava pepperoni,” slices of sausage with as much fennel as red pepper.
For more conventional appetizers, the orange-zested scallops ($12) were two large sea scallops with an honest seafood flavor, despite the decorations, which included a couple of lobster-tomalley toasts. You might mistake them for anchovy-mushroom. A salad of arugula, fennel, and prosciutto ($10) was lovely in all parts, especially the sweet and thin slices of pear, shaved fennel bulb blanched to a similar texture, top-shelf prosciutto, and arugula that came close to as good as it gets for the dead of winter.
My favorite entrée was “Heritage Berkshire Pork” ($30). The “heritage” part means that the meat comes from pedigreed black Berkshire hogs: fattier, darker, and tastier than the bred-lean modern pork. This meat first caught on with gourmands in Japan, and it’s sometimes marketed here as kurobuta (“black pig”). I had a little in some dumplings at Oishii Boston, but now I can order a whole chop. If I hadn’t been wearing my reviewing clothes, I would have squealed out loud. This is some pork. It comes on a little mashed potato, with fried leaves of escarole, tiny sautéed bits of turnip, and honeycrisp-apple “ravioli.” The quotation marks are theirs, as what they do is stuff a little bacon-tasting filling between ultra-thin slices of sautéed apple.
For actual pasta, we tried the cappelletti di zuca ($12/half order; $24/full order), which is a stuffed pasta larger than tortellini, smaller than ravioli. The stuffing and the sauce are sweetened kabocha squash, with fried sage leaves, endive, and black trumpet mushrooms as garnishes.
Seared swordfish ($16) is served here on a bed of sweet-sour black lentils, with artichoke hearts on the side. That yellow sauce that looks like hollandaise? That would be Meyer lemon zabaglione. Kind of a frothed hollandaise, actually. The fish wasn’t large, but it was choice.