Years ago, I worked at Judy’s, a little supper club/cabaret on West 44th Street; often described as a jewel box of a room. It was simple, elegant and intimate. Pangea, in New York’s East Village, is a similar little jewel box, albeit with an artsy, downtown edge.
Pangea sits behind an unprepossessing storefront on 2nd Avenue between 11th and 12th streets, but inside you’ll find a cozy restaurant and bar in the front, featuring a mural of modern hieroglyphics entitled Morlock, and a colorful ceiling installation by artist William Engel. In the back is their 50 seat music room, where audiences can catch shows by local singers, jazz artists, and drag performers, while savoring Italian-Mediterranean fare.
I met up with a friend of mine for dinner and a show by one of the singers in residence, Carol Lipnik. We arrived early, but the friendly bartender welcomed us warmly. Moments later, the back room opened and we were seated. We started with cocktails: my friend chose the Venetian Spritz, made with an Italian aperitif called Aperol, prosecco and sparkling water. The flavor was light, with a crisp, aromatic finish and a hint of bitter orange from the Aperol, which is similar to Campari. I had the Pangea Cocktail – 100% agave tequila, with pomegranate and lemon. Light, fruity and fizzy, it went down easy; so easy I was tempted to order another!
I wanted to sample several appetizers, so we shared the Marinated Olives With Garlic & Herbs – a combination of Niçoise and small, green Liguria olives in an earthenware bowl, with olive oil and a touch of garlic. Not too salty or briny, they made a lovely starter. We also tried the Asparagus Romesco – gently grilled asparagus with a tasty Romesco sauce made with tomato, garlic and red bell pepper. The asparagus had a subtle smokiness that we really enjoyed, while the sauce – tart and nutty, with a bit of sweetness from the bell pepper, complemented the vegetables perfectly. The Spanish Chorizo, with a plum tomato sauce, crispy sage and great northern beans, was like an exotic Spanish version of pork & beans, with tender, meaty pieces of chorizo in a hearty, but not too heavy stew of plump, white beans and a tomato sauce that brought all the ingredients together. While the dish had a nice tangy bite, it was delicious and not too spicy, as chorizo can sometimes be.
Our entrées arrived. I had the Tagilatelle Shrimp – perfectly cooked artisanal pasta, with tender shrimp, in a sauce of tomatoes, scallions, basil, and light cream. While I liked the dish, I would’ve preferred a more aggressive tomato flavor and a bit more seasoning in the sauce. Still, that’s a minor quibble, and at meal’s end, the pasta was indeed gone! My pal selected an entrée that was simple, ubiquitous and to which almost every diner can relate: a hamburger. Pangea’s Brisket Blend Burger was exceptional! The addition of flavorful ground brisket to their regular ground beef, made for a burger that was juicy, satisfying and irresistible, with no need for condiments! It came with hand-cut fries, lettuce, tomato and a choice of toppings – in this case, gorgonzola cheese and bacon, and although those toppings made it a bit too salty for my palate, the burger was still a huge hit!
For dessert, I chose the Lemon Curd Tart, served with a drizzle of créme anglaise. This yummy dessert had a firm, flaky crust and the smooth, lemony flavor of the filling brought back memories of a similar tart I loved as a child. My friend had the Bread Pudding – warm and soft, with lovely texture and a hint of crispiness from the caramelized sugar on the outside. Having worked at a restaurant years ago, where the chef made outstanding bread puddings, I’m a bit of a snob, but Pangea’s was one of the best I’ve tried!
Carol Lipnik took the stage and we knew we were in for a very different cabaret act – a bit of Kate Bush, a little Yma Sumac, a touch of Klaus Nomi and a soupçon of Stevie Nicks, all combined in a performer who is nonetheless completely original. Her show, Goddess Of Imperfection, opened with one of her own compositions, “Floating, Falling,” and her ethereal sound immediately cast a spell on the audience. Her next song was, ironically, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You,” and showed a light, comedic touch. Another original piece, “The Oyster And The Sand,” contained dark, lovely imagery, and was supported nicely by the deft use of an effects track of crashing waves. One of my favorite moments was her spacey take on “The Twist,” by Hank Ballard. Based on an arrangement for the aforementioned Klaus Nomi – of whom I’m a big fan, Lipnik’s otherworldly delivery was enhanced by her sound man’s subtle use of digital delay echo. Halfway through the show, she introduced special guest, David Cale, who gave us a fascinating story of meeting Judy Garland on the beach, and a melancholy song on which he accompanied himself on a concertina. Lipnik returned to give us a few more original pieces, including “Ride On The Light Of The Moon,” co-written with her musical director and accompanist, Matt Kanelos. In her patter, which was often like a cross between a music act and an East Village poetry slam, she mentioned she was celebrating imperfection. If there was one tiny imperfection in the show for me, it was that it became a bit too heavy toward the middle. Still, she was mesmerizing, and saved some of her most stunning, soaring high notes for her closer, “My Piano.”
If you’re searching for a quaint little venue in which to discover new artists, or enjoy old favorites, I definitely recommend Pangea. With tasty dishes on the menu, and wonderful performers like Carol Lipnik, Daryl Sherman, Mark Nadler, and Kevin Aviance, Pangea is well worth a visit.
And by the way, for a real treat, catch a rare NYC appearance at Cafe Noctambulo at Pangea, by the fabulous Spider Saloff, on Saturday, October 15th at 8:00 pm, with the equally fabulous Ricky Ritzel at the piano! It’s the Spider Saloff Party, and it’s sure to be FESTIVE!