05 January 2010

The Portrait of a Pazo Pig-out

Yes, that's right, I've finally mustered up the courage to compose a Pazo post. As you may know by reading my front page bio Pazo is my favorite restaurant in Baltimore. So here we go.

Everytime I go to Pazo I order some standby dishes as well as try some new ones. We were dining with another couple who had never been there and Nikki and I love to see new diners reactions to the outstanding food. This trip was no exception. There was one major letdown and that was that they were out of calamari which is the best calamari I've had.

Immediately we had our friends try the little sesame seed crackers that Pazo has set out on the table, complimentarily of course. They loved them at first bite, and even more so after we told them to drizzle some of the house olive oil on them.

We could eat pounds of these things, they're subtly sweet and have a great crunch without being dry and splintery. We also pointed out the little dish of crack dust as I called it, which was the house sea salt which makes virtually every dish on the menu better. Even beverages. I sprinkled some over my water and it turned into a three olive vodka martini. Honest. Throughout the night we went through two bottles of the Clos de los Siete which is a Malbec/Merlot/Syrah/Cabernet blend. It was good, not great, but definitely sufficed.

Let us get right to the order. I ran through my favorite things on the menu for them and after much discussion and deliberation we placed our order.

Malloreddus alla Norma(2)
Manchego & Manzana(2)
Sauteed Broccoli
Cristina pizza

New dishes:
Wood Grilled Chicken
Kobe Beef Brisket
Lamb Chops(4)
Seared Scallops alla Plancha
Pan Roasted Spanish Octopus
Goat's Cheese Stuffed Agnolotti
Sausage & Arugula pizza

(for more in-depth descriptions of the dishes please see their menu)

The first plates to hit the table were the Manchego & Manzana and the Sauteed Broccoli.

The salad is one of my favorite items on the menu. The cheese, apples, and walnuts create such a wonderful flavor profile. The key is trying to get a little bit of each item in every bite. The sweet crisp apples, the nutty cheese, and the oaky crunch from the walnuts. It's blissfull.

The brocolli is another dish that is surprisingly good. I actually discovered just how good this dish was when I took my mother and her fiance here for her birthday back in September. The liberal application of lemon shines through and makes the dish.

Next up were the tuna and the scallops (our two replacement orders when the waitress regretfully informed us that they were out of calamari... which made me die a little on the inside.)

This is another dish that usually delivers, my only qualm being that sometimes their salsa verde comes out a little bland. Luckily this time it was spot on. The jicama salad while good on its own, didn't really feel like it matched the other components of the dish. And I will admit I'm not quite sure what those corn things were but they tasted like upscale beer nuts, which garnered no complaints from me!

Ever since our dinner at Le Bernardin I've been a little wary of unique scallop flavor combinations. These were served along side a butternut squash puree and 'aromatic peppercorn sauce'. Well the scallops were just how I love them, sweet and flaky with a nice sear and fortunately they worked wonderfully with the butternut puree. I don't recall tasting the peppercorn sauce, but then again this was probably around the time we were killing our first bottle of wine so that may have had something to do with it.

The seafood portion of our meal concluded when our grilled octopus hit the table. The other couple we were dining with were very hesitant and only agreed to trying it after much prodding. They were glad they did.

This was definitely the best rendition of octopus I've had to date. The suckers (there's gotta be a more scientific word for those...) were nicely crispy and tasted like straight up bacon. The application of lemon and capers added a nice acidity to the dish. The crushed potatoes rounded out a very hearty yet light dish. This was one of two pleasant surprises of the evening.

The next round of dining featured our heavier veggie dishes: the agnolotti, malloreddus, samfaina, and croquettas.

This turned out to be one of the best dishes of the evening. I've been craving mushrooms recently and have newfound love of goat cheese after the eye popping fried appetizer at Sala 19. The shrooms were super woodsy, but once my teeth pierced one of the agnolotti I immediately felt as if fireworks were going off in my mouth. The filling was super creamy and tangy. Wonderful. The bitterness of the greens succeeded in cutting down the freight train tanginess balancing out the flavors. At my next visit I may just have them strap an agnolotti feedbag to my face and burn me with lit cigarettes. Wait, scratch that last part. Just the feedbag.

The second disappointment of the meal (the first being the absence of calamari) was the malloredus. While discussing the menu with our friends I pointed out that this was my favorite dish and we order it every time. Since I have pictures of this dish from two separate visits I want to do a little comparison. Can you tell which malloredus is the bad one and why?



Well? Did you figure it out? No, of course you didn't, it's freakin' pasta. The second picture is the pasta in question and the issue with it was the pasta was undercooked which resulted in chewy almost gummy texture. After our initial tastings, we barely touched it. Disappointing, but considering the overall fantastic meal we'd been having up to that point, who were we to complain about one dish?

Luckily the samfaina was there to save the day. What an amazing dish. Add a little crack dust to this beauty and the flavor sails off the charts.

While it may not look all that pretty, trust me this stew is straight up money. This one is also feedbag worthy. If all Catalan cuisine is this good I need to get my ass to eastern Spain ASAP.

The croquettas were just as good as they always are.

A nice lightly fried crust containing fluffy whipped potatoes with a little zing from the added manchego. Slice one of these bad boys open, sprinkle a little crack dust on the exposed innards and dive in.

In my opinion by far the best deal on Pazo's menu are their individual 10" pizzas which run $11-14. Nikki always orders the cristina but this was the first time I'd had the sausage & arugula.

The star of the cristina is definitely the creamy buffalo mozzarella. The crust is reminds me of a more deep dish style crust, buttery and semi-crumbly. While generally I'm not a huge fan of deep dish pizza, it works very well here. The tomato sauce is thin and tangy. My only qualm, and I really am being nitpicky here, is I wish the basil leaves were torn up and spread out. Yep, that's my only complaint.

The proportion of sauce to cheese to crust is perfect and the crust provides the perfect vessel for the toppings which is a huge plus because I hate sloppy soggy pizza.

I have a love/hate relationship with arugula which made me skeptical as to whether or not I would like this pizza. Luckily the combination of sausage and arugula worked well here. I think arugula may be growing on me. The bitterness was balanced by the slightly sweet(I think... damn wine!) and smoky sausage. This sausage kind of reminded me of Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage, in a good way. I would've liked some spiciness, nonetheless this was another great pizza.

It kills me to say this, but I've enjoyed the pizza here more than any pizza I've had in NYC. Yes, even Di Fara. It just proves just how subjective pizza love can be. There are so many styles and variations that there just can't be any single best pizza joint. I do, however, plan on returning to Di Fara at some point before I'm six feet under and ordering straight pies with minimal, if any, toppings. Someday.

Our last wave of plates arrived, the meats. At this point we probably could've taken the check and been happy as we were all groaning with bloated stomachs. But we toughed it out, bring on the meat I say!

The empanadas are served alongside the aforementioned salsa verde. The dough used in this dish is very similar to the pizza dough, I wouldn't be surprised if they were one and the same. Now that I think about it, the sausage is very similar to the sausage topping our pizza. I guess that means basically the empanadas are little pizza pockets sans cheese served with salsa verde instead of tomato sauce. Here's a nice interior shot:

Empanadas in the morning, empanadas in the evening, empanadas at suppertime... That was a great jingle.

The brisket was almost too tender. It was like if your mom on a whim decided to use Kobe beef instead of the usual discount bin meat to make pot roast.

There was a very slight chew to it, but not much. I scoffed at the offering of a knife, you could cut this with a wet noodle. I didn't try the potatoes because honestly I was beyond full at this point, but they smelled like the bomb.

The lamb chops were as good as lamb chops should be. They were moist and gamey, which I love. Give me a big old bucket of gaminess, I love it.

The pomegranate sauce/seeds gave a nice bittersweet pop to the dish. The bright red sauce along with the green pile of arugula created a nice semi-Christmasy visual appeal. Here's a shot of the interior doneness of the lamb chops. I know it's very blurry, but it gets the point across: The chops were cooked perfectly.

After looking through my photos I just realized I neglected to get a shot of the wood grilled chicken, sorry about that. I know you guys love perty pictures. The chicken was moist and the wood grill at Pazo, the only one in Baltimore according to our waitress, imparted a lovely smokiness to the meat.

Welp, at this point I'm pretty burnt out. This is a lot of writing in one sitting! Yikes, I gotta go get ready for my dad's New Year's Eve party. Even though this post will be delayed since I just posted the conclusion of our trip to NYC, happy New Year everyone!

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theminx said...

I've been to Pazo several times and have never had a bad dish. My standbys are different from yours: pork pinchos, wood roasted mushrooms, eggplant dip, and the original grilled shrimp dish with garlic. But my favorite thing of all is the sunflower seed crackers.

Haven't been in a while, and it looks like there are some new tapas on the menu...might be time for another trip.

Kyle said...

My past favorite was the rabbit ravioli, but that was years ago. I believe they've changed chefs since then. I know the grilled shrimp with garlic very well, it's a great dish. We've had some bad dishes there: Jamon Iberco, some skewered shrimp and tomato dish, the olives, the ceviche, and an arugula salad with peaches and a sherry vinaigrette which was probably the worst dish I've ever had there.

theminx said...

I don't think I've tried any of the dishes you just mentioned, and if they're bad, that's probably a good thing!

Michelle said...

Just found your blog... I love it and I'm a fellow bel air foodie! Wanted to suggest to you Mezze (Thames Street in Fells). It is the most amazing Tapas joint I've ever been to! I'm obsessed with it; Mediteranian/Greek inspired and it's CRAZY good. Must Must Must Try: The cheese and spinach phyllo, the Pastitsio (Greek lasagna), The BBQ Salmon (my favorite dish of all time), Tarama (Cod Roe dip with Pita), Pastrima, and the melt in your mouth Duck Confit! Excellent location, vibes, service, and wine/beer selection! (I should really be there spokes person....)

Mr. Micro said...

Hmm, Mezze you say? I shall file that away in my mental filing cabinet. I keep hearing great things about Tapas Teatro but have yet to make it out there. I believe that will by my next destination when I'm of a mind to try a new tapas joint. But I'll keep your recommendation in mind. Thanks!

katty said...
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