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Photo: Baltimore Sun

When you think of some of the most striking restaurant spaces in Baltimore, what comes to mind? For me, one is PAZO. It’s huge, but warm. Two levels, but yes, a little loud. But then, honestly very few restaurants these days are not (or am I just getting old? Don’t answer that…) I really don’t mind the lively environment…it makes you feel like you’re out! And it was recently included on the Baltimore Sun’s list of great places for a first date. I have to agree.

I am a big fan of the Foreman Wolf group’s spots. Petit Louis is one of the most consistently good restaurants in town. They have the casual (but nice!) French thing down. You’re greeted warmly, served graciously and the food is stellar. The roast chicken there is so, so good – one of my favorite dishes in town. Chef Cindy Wolf and business partner Tony Foreman have created some great places over the years – Charleston, PAZO, Cinghiale, Johnny’s and now, Petit Louis in Columbia and I’ve been to all but the last. I’ve never had dinner at Charleston, but I’d love to…one day! Right now, PAZO and Johnny’s are in my budget and that’s just fine with me. (The pancakes are Johnny’s are perfect.)

When I was invited to come to PAZO and make pizzas with Chef Julian Marucci, I was so excited. I make pizza at home but they never turn out round…shaped more like Africa, which is fine…but not ideal. I hoped Chef Julian could give me some tips – and he did. PAZO has recently changed over from Spanish to Italian cuisine and while the menu at PAZO is more rustic Italian (south of Rome), Cinghiale’s s more modern style (north of Rome.) At PAZO, many of the doughs they use are vegan and slightly less filling (no eggs) and Chef Julian came over to PAZO from Cinghiale, so he knows both styles well. I am excited to go to both places for dinner and see what I think.

I arrived at PAZO early afternoon and we had the place to ourselves. Pretty cool to see a space that big, empty.

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We started by pulling pre-made crusts out of the refrigerator. We worked quickly as not to work the dough to much. That’s one thing I’ve always told people about making pizza – be organized and work fast! Each disk of dough was about 3-4″ in diameter and Chef showed me how he stretches it…working in a circular motion around the outside, sure to leave a little raised crust on the outside. Once had hand-stretched them a but, we worked them a little with a rolling pin, just to smooth them out – pressing on the ends of the rolling pin, not the middle (I didn’t know this part….it keeps things more even.)

Then, he opened the refrigerated drawer of toppings. I want one of those. But then, somehow my dog would figure out how to break into it – after all, it was filled with cheese and meats and vegetables and well, that’s just too good not to steal. I totally would dig into that, too. Then, there would be no pizza pie.

Executive Baker Carrie Goltra came by to say hi and she said that they use Caputo flour from Italy, high quality olive oil and and higher ratio of oil to water…and a mixer. They make hundreds of crusts each day, so I’d say they have it down. I was so impressed with the setup down there. (And, again, jealous.) We made several pizzas and Chef showed me how to put the pizzas in the oven (carefully…about 600 degrees) and then we ate. The pizza at PAZO is Neapolitan style, thin crust – my favorite. We played around with a few toppings, but really kept it pretty simple.

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Check out the full menu here: PAZO

And…this price fixe menu is very tempting, too:
$45 per person includes one each from antipasti, pasta, and pesce & carne

antiPasti
Escarole Salad cucumber, shallot, lemon yogurt vinaigrette 9
Zuppa di Fregula clams, mussels, shrimp, lobster broth 12
Green Salad English peas, fava beans, oyster mushrooms, sherry vinaigrette 10
Red & Gold Beet Salad house-made goats milk ricotta, arugula, walnut pesto 12
Local Asparagus Salad Blue Crab, crispy capers, lemon maionese 12

Pasta
Bucatini alla Molinara lamb, beef & duck ragu, pecorino 13/25
Spaccatelli Godfrey’s Farm asparagus, forest mushrooms, pecorino 11/21
Spaghetti alla Chitarra con Vongole clams, garlic, tomato, chilis, fresh herbs 13/25
Cavatelli sugar snap peas, guanciale, pecorino 13/25
Ravioli della Nonna hand-formed pasta, ricotta, tomato sauce 12/23

Pesce & carni
Fritto Misto crispy softshell crabs, artichokes, onions, three sauces 26
Seared Skuna Bay Salmon swiss chard, capers, golden raisins, pignoli, lemon butter sauce 26
Wood-Grilled Branzino potato cake, fava beans, roasted cherry tomatoes, basil purée 27
Wood-Grilled Whole Lobster Godfrey’s Farm asparagus, salmoriglio sauce 30
Pan Roasted Half Chicken fingerling potatoes, rosemary, garlic, chili, lemon 26
Wood-Grilled Lamb Steak English peas, smoked pearl onions, mint pesto 25 Creekstone Farms Hanger Steak grilled & crispy local onions, forest mushrooms, onion vinaigrette 29
Grilled Swordfish rhubarb caponata, pignoli, bottarga 

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Thank you, Julian for the great lesson. Let’s do it again – maybe a pasta class. I have a feeling we could get a crowd!