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Apr 21, 2008 09:53 AM

Panciuto Hillsborough

I noticed an interest on this from Soiree thread so briefly,

We were a group of six. Menu is very limited; 4 apps, 4 entrees.

Spring salad plate with potato salad, baby carrots, beets, greens was very nice and refreshing . I am assuming all local. Prices are estimated $9

Short rib on bruschetta - 1 piece, 3 bite size. flavor good, enjoyed $8
I assume the beef was from local cattle, they have a 'fineprint' section on bottom of menu that states so

fried quail, stone grits, vin cotto (cooked wine) my favorite. Only complaint was a small small drizzle of vin cotto $11

sea scallops, asparagus risotto Generous 3 large sea scallops, risotto looked good, did not sample $11

Grilled Pork chop, gnocchi Did not try but this was the dish to order. Generous portion, enjoyed by the two that ordered it. $24

Black Spag, crumbled sausage, calamari, jalapenos, saffron tomato butter,
my entree, disappointing. Was expecting big bold flavors, but tasted too strongly of fishy calamari. No spice, no saffron taste. $22

Beef ragu with fettucini or papparedelle Very small portion, very dry( I guess in the Italian style) was expecting wow, flavors of long cooked beef etc. $22

We all ordered as a second course and had 1 ea of
Spin ricotta ravioli, pea shoots, radishes, light butter sauce - very very good. good use of salt too. Large ravioli, very flavorful, dish shouted SPRING

Lemon tart with a blackberry, whipped cream Think lemon curd (very good) excellent crust.

Choc cake - tasted like it was made somewhere else. Mousse like center tasted like made from Rich's whipped topping, disappointing.

very limited wine list but well chosen and reasonably priced

nice little starter of prosecco

bread was good, but we were a 6 top, got 6 portions of bread with apps (herbed butter is wonderful) and had to ask 3 more times to get more bread.

Service was slow, and not really very warm and welcoming. We were 1 of about 5 tables, if they did more than 20 covers that night I would be surprised.

Atmosphere was comfortable, large upholstered chairs, spacious dining, low noise level.
Most people were very casually dressed - shorts, more like golf attire.

Downtown Hillsborough looked really cool to check out though. Telupas (?) was very busy, outside seating.

Not sure if I would go again. While I did enjoy most of it, I had much higher expectations based on Greg Cox's review.

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  1. I live in Hillsborough and have only been to Panciuto once. I thought it was good but not fantastic, and not worth the prices they charge. So while I think it's nice to have a more upscale alternative in town, I don't know if I will go back anytime soon.

    Tupelo's (which must be the other restaurant you are referring to) is very popular and usually quite busy. That's where we go most frequently - that and the Wooden Nickel, which is a little hole-in-the-wall bar next door to Tupelo's. Their beer and wine list is pretty good (though small) and they have really good sandwiches.

    3 Replies
    1. re: romansperson

      I also noticed a quaint looking mexican restaurant on the way in off 40, Casa imparra? Is it good? I haven't seen any thing posted about it. It reminds me of a place I used to go to in CT.

      1. re: winedine

        Casa Ibarra isnt bad...not amazing...but certainly better than your average Toreros. Its a nice place to take guests, its a nice lil renovated house

        1. re: winedine

          Yeah, as TSQ75 said, Casa Ibarra's not bad, but not great either. It is consistent, though - fast, reasonably priced, good service. I do know a couple folks who like the shrimp dishes there but I've never tried any of the seafood items.

          There's also a Bandido's up near Panciuto and Tupelo's and they are about the same. I do like the sangria at Bandido's more.

      2. I ate at Panciuto 2 weekends ago and felt the same about the service. It was like the server was just going through "the motions." I have eaten there a few times before and had excellent service, so maybe the incident was uncommon. I am curious about what other people think about the service.

        8 Replies
        1. re: durhamrawks

          the service can vary a little at panciuto -- it's almost more a level of comfort for the servers i think as much as anything. the original crew they had was better and more experienced.

          as far as the food goes, i've been there at least 5 times and it's been very, very good each time. maybe not every dish was a homerun, but usually 2 out of 3 and sometimes 3 out of 3. it's magnolia grill/nana's level IMHO.

          casa ibarra. i'd heard the buzz and finally went a few weeks ago. i'd consider bandido's better, if not by much -- it's certainly not "all that". i wouldn't take out of town guests there.

          tupelo's is good, but i fear is struggling with consistency of late.

          the quick, if not complete current hboro run down (one man's opinion):

          1. panciuto. it's not even close for anything else in the area.
          2. gulf rim -- improving upon a solid base
          3. wooden nickel -- it's bar food, but often very good bar food. fresh local produce this summer adds a nice touch
          4. tupelos -- still good, but missing that extra touch of late
          5. saratoga grill -- usually the seafood stands out here.
          6. bandidos/casa ibarra -- mostly basic ameri-mex.

          about the only others i'd note now are:

          riverside -- small meat and three that is solid and hits the occassional exceptional note.
          village diner -- it is what it is, but it's a good value and you will be surprised at times with what you find on the buffet
          american hero -- greek deli that provides good food at a good price

          special shout out for matthew's chocolates (open wed-sun). matthew's doing some very nice things at his small store.

          1. re: chili367

            Nice summary, and helpful now that I find myself in hboro more and more now that Weaver Street market is open.

            1. re: chili367

              Thanks for the report, chili. I haven't been to Panciuto since last summer, but back I'd put it on par with Magnolia Grill as well.

              Village Diner was terrible as buffets go, imo. The fried chicken wasn't that good, and all the veggies seemed to be from cans. I've never had such tasteless Southern veggies from a buffet before. It's an extensive selection, but it's one of those places where I eat no more not because I'm full, but because it's all I can take.

              Riverside's an interesting little place. It failed the test for me - seemed a bit too generic - but the flat corn bread thing they serve is a standout. I wouldn't say it's worth the drive from Durham as a destination place (while IMO Gulf Rim and Panciuto are). As Southern food goes, I'd rather just continue on to Delancy's in Burlington, or Ye Olde Country Kitchen or Old Place for a lot better Southern food.

              1. re: mikeh

                i understand, mikeh. however, i can walk to riverside from where i work :)

                i'm not sure the veggies are the standout at the VD, although i'm pretty sure the greens aren't from a can.

                just seeing the stacks (literally) of fresh, local tomatoes in the wooden nickel is an awesome sight. not at all what you'd expect in a "bar".

                1. re: chili367

                  I see so many folks who are in H'borough and fans of the town (and markets!)...

                  ...dare I suggest a gathering? Perhaps around the fried squash at the Wooden Nickel?!

                  1. re: josephin

                    josephin, there is a bad rumor that i just closed down the WN this morning. i'm sure this isn't true.

                    but the fried squash, at this time of year, is a great gathering suggestion. i had an excellent BLT this evening -- as long as tomatoes are in season anything with a T is a good choice.

                    just let me know when the gathering is. there's a good chance i'll be around.

              2. re: chili367

                Great rundown of Hillsborough! I grew up there and most of these restaurants weren't around then (except Saratoga, Casa Ibarra, and Village Diner).

                I like Casa Ibarra better than Bandidos, especially if you go on Sunday and order off the menu in Spanish.

                For those heading to H'Boro, I highly suggest stopping by the Hillsborough Wine Company. Their customer service is superb. Also, if you're lucky you'll go there when they have free tastings (Friday nights, I think).

                1. re: sarahUNC

                  hillsborough wine tastings are, generally, every saturday from 1 to 5. same for their chapel hill branch. they used to have friday evening beer tastings, but those were discontinued a while ago. i do recommend stopping by on saturdays.

                  i will admit to not ordering off the bandidos or casa ibarra menu in spanish :)

            2. My wife and I went last week and THOROUGHLY enjoyed it. We split a salad with a very nice gorgonzola dressing- very fresh greens, though the lettuce pieces were a bit large. That is my only, very modest complaint of the evening.

              My wife had the butternut squash, swimming in a rich, but not at all greasy butter sauce - these were fantastic. I had the pork chop with rici and bisi. Ok, I have a special relationship with this chop, as I've been working at Cane Creek Farm that supplies Panciuto's pork. But. This as the single finest pork chop I have ever eaten (and I've had plenty!!) It was a huge chop - I thought $24 was sort of a lot, but in keeping with the other prices on the menu. In fact, this was a REALLY good deal. The chop is cut from the Export Cut- a large roast cut incorporating all of the roast (loin and tenderloin). So the chop includes loads of loin, and only a bit of rib. Beyond the gargantuan portion, the pork itself was divine. It's been brined in juniper and I'm sure other excellent fresh herbs, and then it MUST be cold smoked, because it had a heady smoky flavor. It was like eating a tender huge rasher of fat free pancetta. Mmmmmm...
              For dessert we split a very fine chocolate cake - a pair of genoise with a mouse interior and a charming ganache icing. All this, two glasses of wine, for a total of less than 100 bucks. And for us, the service was great. Chatty, but not intrusive, friendly and we were basically left alone (which is better than hovering) We'll be back soon, I hope!