Petruce et al comes out blazing

Given the cozy space it occupies and the heat coming off the open-concept kitchen, Petruce et al seems to know that nothing is more seductive than being huddled around a roaring fire in a dim atmosphere.

All the dishes at Petruce come off of a wood-fire hearth, giving most of the dishes a rustic feel. To add to the experience, you can sit at the bar tables in the back around the kitchen and watch the staff fire up the dishes. The menu is separated into small, medium, large and “et al” plates, which are big enough for two. For the sake of the amount of real estate we had in our gullets, we avoided those and the large plates and stuck to the smaller dishes.

The Swiss chard ($8) was a bold salad boasting an interesting flavor profile, with grapefruit, fava beans and crispy chickpeas that worked very well together. The sweet potato ($10) was a unique convergence of flavors that worked surprisingly well despite the contrast of the rich Thanksgiving-like hot sweet potatoes intermingling with the spicy Mexican coolness of the avocado, tomatillo and queso fresco. We couldn’t figure out why the combination worked but it did.

Along the way, grilled artisan bread showed up, giving us something hearty to clean up the tasty jus that would gather at the bottom of some of our dishes. Thanks!

The quail ($19) had an Asian-style flavor to the dish and the bird itself, while flavorful, was outshined by the more robust and lovely pancake it rested on. The octopus ($18) was brilliant. That particular protein, which in other hands might have been steered in a Mediterranean direction, took on a down-home Southern charm at Petruce. Perfectly tender and roasted, the octopus was swimming in a small pool of grits and hot sauce garnished with field peas. Petruce’s take on lasagna ($16) was simpler than its traditional brethren but every bit as tasty. This meatless incarnation keeps it simple with layers of béchamel and tomato, which stays close to the feel of the Italian staple but maintains a light texture that is refreshing.

If you are looking for a unique dining experience downtown, Petruce et al is worth getting fired up about.