AGAWAM While some people would say that these are tough economic times in which to open a new restaurant, those people might change their minds once they try Pananas.
Five years in the making, the restaurant was opened late last fall by long-time restaurateur Louie Pananas. The spacious new building at 916 Suffield St. (Rt. 75) holds a dining room that seats 150 customers and has room for a future banquet facility.
Pananas said that Executive Chef Serge Backes has had an impressive career. Trained in France, Backes has worked in both Europe and this country and even had a stint as a private chef for Clint Eastwood.
The menu has both traditional American influences as well as European ones. Among the seafood offerings are grilled salmon with dill sauce ($24); sesame crusted tuna served with a root vegetable medley and a red chile vinaigrette ($23); and roasted calamari stuffed with crabmeat in pomodoro sauce ($19).
Among the meat and poultry selections are a roasted half duck ($23) and baked rack of lamb ($28). There are pasta dishes as well including a vegetable spinach fettuccine ($16) and a pasta dish with saut ed shrimp and scallops ($24).
Salads are la carte and range in price from a house salad for $5 to a sesame spinach salad for $8.
Daily specials are also offered. My wife and I decided to try two dishes from that menu -- chicken pomodori ($14) and a delmonico steak ($19) with the option of adding two baked stuffed shrimp for an additional $6, which I did.
Our server Kristen, one of the best servers we've ever had, brought us warm fresh-baked bread and a tapenade made from olives and sun-dried tomatoes. Although I'm not a big tomato fan, I did try it and the two tastes combined very nicely.
We started with an appetizer and chose a gratin of wild mushrooms -- a light puff pastry filled with mushrooms in a cream and wine sauce ($6). It was delightful and we used our bread to sop up the leftover sauce.
For me, a steak is a good test of a restaurant. Having been a line cook and been in charge of a grill, I know that the only person more demanding than a martini drinker -- I've also been a bartender -- is a steak eater. They want their steaks done exactly as they request and are not afraid to send them back.
I don't mind my steak to have a pink center, but I hate having blood on the plate. My steak passed my test with flying colors. It was a flavorful piece of beef covered with mushrooms. Delicious!
The two baked stuffed shrimp were also wonderful with a stuffing of crabmeat, offering another level of flavor.
My wife's dish was a tender chicken breast served with a roasted tomato sauce with mushrooms. She loved it.
Both meals were hearty portions and were accompanied with baked fingerling potatoes and cauliflower.
As always on these assignments, we force ourselves to try a dessert, but when the house specialty of baklava cheesecake ($6) was mentioned we magically seemed to have room. All of the desserts are made fresh on the premises and Panana's wife, Carol, came up with the idea of adding a layer of the traditional Greek dessert on top of a creamy cheesecake. The result is something that is amazingly good.
Panana's is open Wednesday to Monday from 4 to 10 p.m. Its "X Lounge," which features a wide selection of specialty drinks and a different pub menu, is open Wednesday to Monday 4 p.m. to midnight. For reservations call 786-9012.
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