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Restaurants & Bars 7

Pazo again (quite long)

Jon Parker | Dec 12, 2004 07:08 AM

Katy and I went to Pazo last night, the Charleston group's new restaurant in Fell's Point. The summation of our experience is very similar to Melissa's below: it was good, but not great. However, her recommendation that Chowhounders go now before it's overrun is already out of date. The place was packed.

We had a 9:00 reservation, and got there a few minutes beforehand. The maitre'd told us to wait at the bar and check back at 9, which we did. And 9:10. And 9:20. We were finally seated at 9:30. This was fine -- I know that turnover is not something that a restaurant can control to the minute, but I would have preferred a more realistic assessment of when we would actually be seated. We weren't sure whether to get drinks at the bar or not, since we were continually told that it would be "just a moment."

The clientele ranged from 20-40 somethings for the most part. I think some diners might be put off by the noise, which is very loud. Still, the space has the same effect they have at Vespa -- the din creates a kind of noise bubble that permits private conversation with little trouble. It was bothering me at first, but I quickly got used to it.

My opinion of the sunflower seed tule was the same as Melissa's -- they can do better than this. I'd prefer a few olives or a bit of bread.

Our server, Robin, was quite friendly and I think knowledgable, although I had trouble hearing him over the din. He took our drink orders and offered us a choice of bottled or tap water.* Katy had the Euro, a French martini that claimed to come with fresh raspberries, although the plural was misleading. It was potent but very good. I had the sangreta, which was disappointing. No fruit in the glass, and the flavor just wasn't memorable.

We ordered small plates, and with one exception they were all good but not great.

I had the calamari with green apple -- two nigiri sized pieces on a bed of apple shavings. It wasn't bad, but didn't thrill me. I also had the shrimp with garlic and tomato, which I ordered mostly because it was listed as a specialty on the grand table menu. It was also good, but the chili pepper was barely noticable, and I ended up dipping the shrimp in the bowl of olive oil and chili that was brought to the table.

My other dishes were sliced chorizo with sliced small, probably fingerling potatoes. Good, but hard to mess up. Grilled mushrooms were overcooked, and the flavor wasn't spectacular. I ordered a glass of acceptable Merlot instead of more sangreta.

Katy had the fritto misto, fried seafood with a somewhat bland aioli. To repeat, good but not great. I didn't try her mushroom ragu with carrots. The one really excellent dish of the evening was her braised veal cheeks with spiced pumpkin. If the rest of the food lived up to this dish, I'd be raving about the place. I kept stealing bites, and it really transformed my feeling about the food. This is a must-have.

Another minor quibble -- about half of our dishes came about 15 minutes or so after we ordered, then there was about a 20 minute delay before the rest of them appeared. We had about 5 minutes with no food on the table, although Robin apologized for the delay. In general the whole staff seemed to have trouble keeping up, although you can hardly blame them.

For dessert Katy had the cannoli duo, which were filled on both ends but not in the middle. I had the sharp cheese trio, which was actually four varieties (math does not seem to be the menu's strong point), all of which were very good, although there was no indication as to what was on the plate.

All in all were there about two hours. Our bill was $89 pre-tip, just $1 over Melissa's total.

I will return when I get a tapas craving. It's definitely better than Tapas Teatro. It's not anywhere near Jaleo's league though, except for the veal cheeks. I'll go back just for that.

* I always want to laugh when offered bottled water at a restaurant because of a story that Katy's grandmother told me a few years ago. She was in a Manhattan restaurant, and the waiter listed several exotic bottled waters. She looked at him deadpan and said "I believe I'll have the Giuliani."

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