December 12, 2005 | Ask Gael

Can we trust the West Side renaissance?

        Local grape nuts may cheerfully surrender to the provocative wine pairings in flights of two-ounce tastes at Pair of 8s, an ambitious new launch on Amsterdam. Wine director Tiffaney Prewitt likes to amuse advanced winos with surprises, such as, in her words, “three grapes that start with the letter X.” But we basic foodies are pleased to discover luscious smoked prawns on mâche with a roasted-tomato dressing, a lively salad of squid grilled whole with melon and prosciutto, and first-rate venison with tangy red cabbage. Being disgruntled Upper West Siders, we wish the wine list offered more bottles in the $30 range. Still, chef Bill Peet has whisked around for two and a half decades, and his rigorous training shows in the unexpected subtlety of champagne sauerkraut that nuzzles pan-seared scallops, and the bittersweet-chocolate mousse he carried with him from fifteen years with André Soltner at Lutèce. Seared-lamb-tenderloin salad with watercress in a Cabrales vinaigrette, big enough to share, could be an entrée. And though the breast of roasted half-chicken is a tad too cooked, its dry-roasted red and yellow beets are a revelation. A shower of rum on roasted pineapple might cap the evening if you can possibly resist that mousse. Monday’s $25 two-course prix fixe with a glass of wine is already a sellout.

568 Amsterdam Ave. nr. 88th St. 212 874 2742.

Patina Restaurant Group