Emer and I left work on Monday after watching the news about the protests and riots going on in West Baltimore. We walked – because Harbor East and Fells Point were not yet affected by looters and rioters. Even though parts of the city were under fire, we had been excited all week about our reservation at PAZO, so we decided to venture out. Nothing on CNN had shown the protests reaching Inner Harbor and we felt safe. Once we arrived to PAZO, we realized that we were one of four parties in the restaurant. Although it was a Monday, PAZO is usually a happening place – Baltimore had definitely chosen to stay at home this evening.
We were warmly greeted by Kevin, whom I assume is the manager of the restaurant. Emer and I chose to sit in the lounge area – the decor and architecture in this space remind me of a trendy New York wine bar. Vaulted, high ceilings, an open kitchen, and dim lighting make PAZO a very cool place to enjoy food + drink. This actually wasn’t my first visit to PAZO either – my parents and I dined here when I moved to Baltimore in July. It is one of many children that Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman ingeniously co-created – others include Charleston, Cinghiale, and Petit Louis Bistro, which are all great spots in Charm City.
Emer and I eagerly ordered the prix fixe menu – 3 courses for $45 (obviously we got wine pairings with each course, as well). All of the wines on PAZO’s wine list are from Italy, as it is an Italian & Mediterranean restaurant. The wine pairings were about $20 extra – money very well spent. Kevin took great care of us all evening, along with the help of a few cocktail servers. He sat down with us and planned out what wines he would be pairing with each course and was very attentive throughout the meal. They brought out a complimentary plate from the kitchen of salmon crudo with apple and pistachios – delicious and bright. And there’s no better way to start off your meal than with a glass of bubbly, which they also surprised us with.
After this delighter, we had our first course – I chose the avocado + crab bruschetta with cherry bomb peppers and Emer got the beet salad. My bruschetta was extremely satisfying and tasty – creamy avocado, nice acid from lime, and meaty crab. Usually if I see avocado on the menu, I have a hard time straying away from it. Most of my friends and other twenty-something girls would say the same. The pairing for the bruschetta was excellent, a spumante rose from Veneto that complimented the brightness from the lime and richness of the crab. Although my bruschetta was delicious, it definitely wasn’t an overwhelming five star dish. I feel like Emer and I could make the same plate at home. It could have used a bit more heat maybe – bring on the cherry bomb peppers PAZO!
At PAZO, the second course is a pasta course. This makes me very happy. This should be the norm for all restaurants. Pasta makes the world go ’round. I selected the orecchiette with housemade pork sausage, spinach, and parmigiano. Why you ask? Because I love sausage. Top it with a generous helping of grated parmesan and I’m sold. And this isn’t your mom’s favorite Kraft parmesan cheese. This stuff was fresh from Italia, nutty, salty, parmigiano reggiano. Kevin paired it with a full-bodied Primitivo (which is the same grape as Zinfandel) from Puglia that had enough tannins to balance out the fattiness of the sausage and parmigiano. Emer had food envy after she saw my plate hit the table, but that’s okay because we were even – I wanted her beet salad she enjoyed for her antipasti course. We were 1 – 1 after we devoured the pasta. The winner would be decided upon the third course – pesce + carni.
We were definitely already full, but we’re big girls and don’t waste food. We made the essential move of unbuttoning your jeans, so we were able to fit another dinner in our bellies. I got pesce and Emer got carni for our pesce + carni course – we were 2 peas in a pod. Kevin recommended the salmon that was wrapped in salty prosciutto. Prosciutto is salted and cured ham and it’s delicious – you should try it sometime very soon. The salmon was served on a bed of baby artichokes and topped with a saffron lemon butter sauce. It was cooked perfectly and the prosciutto was crispy, which is extremely important. Shamelessly, I’m that annoying girl at restaurants and fast-food places that specifies “can I get extra CRISPY bacon on my burger, please?” I’m sorry, but I refuse to eat rubbery bacon. If the piece of bacon doesn’t stay straight when I lift it up, then I’m going to take it off of my burger and politely (although I’m infuriated) place it on the side of the plate. Enough with my bacon rant. He paired my salmon with a Fiano from the island of Sicily. It was the same wine Emer had with her pasta course and I really loved the floral and tropical fruit notes on this white wine – almost like honey. Emer enjoyed hanger steak with leeks and wild mushrooms. I think we tied at the end of the night with our menu selections, no problem by me! However, there is no dessert with the prix fix menu, which is a problem. Sadly, my sweet tooth was not satisfied. Not that I had any room for dessert…
After a beautiful meal, we were approached by Kevin and one of his servers. They said that everyone needed to be out by 9:30 per their restaurant owner. Emer and I were a bit nervous as there were no Ubers on the road and we obviously weren’t walking home. We closed out our bill and the server then came back and stated that they saw groups of people walking down the middle of Aliceanna (street in front of PAZO). They turned off the lights, locked the doors, and asked everyone to get to the back of the restaurant. We started to get a bit nervous at this point. While waiting with other guests in the back, we heard a mob outside and then saw a group of people in “Purge” masks run up to the glass door of PAZO. They were jumping around and banged on the glass door. It only lasted for probably 5 seconds, but Emer and I were completely shaken up. There were no other sitings of rioters or looters, and one of the female servers graciously offered to drive us home. We got home safe and sound thanks to the true hospitality and care of the PAZO team. We will most definitely be returning to PAZO, both for the comforting food and world-class service. Pray for Charm City.