Monday, July 26, 2010

Panas - Guest Post

Our empanada-loving guest blogger is back (read his previous post on Julia's Empanadas here)! Some might say his love affair with emps takes it to a whole 'nother level, but we would argue that this is a man that simply knows what he likes. And whenever you meet a guy who can lovingly analyze the merits of various empanadas for hours on end, it is best to just get out of his way and let him do his thing.

As for us, there might just be a new favorite empanada shop in town. You could argue that comparing Julia's to Panas is like apples and oranges and I would agree... but also know that I would pick up an orange every time.

-B and J

I've spent many a night late in Dupont longing for Julia. I visit her often, and she never fails to satisfy my needs. And my needs - whether late on a Saturday night after displaying bad dance moves at Midtown or even worse dance moves at Lucky Bar - usually center on one thing: a delicious empanada. But B and J convinced me to spread my empanada love to a new kid on the block: Panas Gourmet Empanadas. Will I remain in a committed empanada relationship with Julia? Will Panas seduce me with its gourmet flavors? More on my late night empanada indiscretions later; for now, let's focus on the Panas experience.

When I arrived at Panas, B was sitting serenely at a table waiting for me -- something that is quite literally impossible at Julia's given that their entire dining area consists of a cluttered shelf where a couple of people can elbow their way for standing room to eat. Panas, however, is the complete opposite: the interior is clean and modern, and there's strange astroturf "growing" on one of the walls. Parkour anyone?

While a single empanada at Panas is significantly smaller than one at Julia's -- weighing in at an estimated 2.5 ounces -- diners at Panas would do well to select one of their many combo meals. All combo meals allow diners to select a certain number of empanadas, and while some come with freshly-made salads or guacamole, all of them come with plantain chips and "dripping" sauces.

In yet another contrast, while Julia's menu is limited to a handful of savory -- and a couple of sweet -- empanadas, Panas has a much more diverse and adventurous selection of empanadas, ranging from vegetarian to meat to seafood-filled pastries. As one would expect in dining with B and J, all told at least one of us tried nearly every empanada on the menu.

I know you may be saying to yourself right now, "But, empanada-loving guest blogger, how did you figure out which empanada was which?" Well, in perhaps the greatest empanada breakthrough of the 21st century, each empanada is branded with a letter or two which, when referenced back to the menu, corresponds to a different type of filling. That made splitting up the 12 empanadas among ourselves much easier: "Hey J, let me get that SE for your CS!"

Have I made it clear that Panas is very different from Julia's yet? No? Okay here's one more difference: while Julia declares that her empanadas are "baked with love," Panas seem fried to me. While they do reheat each empanada in an oven before serving, the pastry shell tasted to me much more like a Japanese Gyoza than a Julia's-style shell. One isn't inherently better than the other, but it certainly is noticeably different.

"Hey empanada-loving guest blogger, will you just talk about how the freaking empanadas taste now? B and J never take this long!" Fine. They're really good. The flavors are much more complex, and the combinations much more adventurous than those at Julia's. I had a smoked eggplant empanada which was filled with mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese and hard boiled eggs that I had assumed would be my fourth-seeded empanada, but it blew me away. It was rich, savory, and paired really nicely with the red pepper "dripping sauce." The chicken pesto empanada tasted like a delicious 2.5 ounce calzone, and the "Popeye" -- spinach, onions and goat cheese -- was a denser, slightly more flavorful rendition of my standard at Julia's.

So, am I now in a polygamous empanada relationship? As Facebook would say: it's complicated. Panas and Julia's are perfect compliments to one another. It's hard to top Julia's for a late-night empanada run after a night out, but for a more enjoyable dining experience -- complete with a comfortable place to sit and more ambitious flavors -- Panas is a great choice.

And so Julia's will remain my late-night fling, while Panas -- appropriately named after the Spanish slang for "buddy," -- is more of my empanada friend (friend with benefits, though, if you include plantain chips).
Panas on Urbanspoon

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