Po Pazzo is located on India Street in Little Italy, in a central location just a short walk from the trolley stop and surrounded by metered street parking. The name of the restaurant is Italian for “a little crazy,” which, when I learned this, left me a little befuddled, as I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at the restaurant.
Upon entering through the doorway, we were greeted by a young hostess and the charming manager on duty, Diago. Diago, in a dapper suit, lead us to the far side of the restaurant to a booth alongside the back wall. The booth was semi-circular and quite large, making it the comfy alternative to the array of tables interspersed throughout the restaurant’s middle section.
As I sat down, I found the dark décor and dim lighting to be unbelievably seductive, a modern style tinged with vintage. The deep maroon of cherry wood trimmed the chairs and tables as well as the bar and wine cabinets, creating a stark contrast to the fresh white table cloths. The dining room seemed to sparkle as the lighting from two luminous wispy chandeliers, resembling colossal tumbleweeds whose ends held tiny bulbs of light, reflected off the twinkling wine glasses. The dark purple and cream-colored walls were lined with opaque scones, black-and-white Italian prints, and a grand, faintly-colored portrait of Joe Busalacchi, the owner.
Our booth gave us an eagle’s-eye vantage point of the bar directly opposite of us and the open kitchen to our right, slightly hidden by purple and blue stained-glass dividers. The kitchen was surprisingly silent—I had no idea how the acoustics of the room kept the cooking inaudible to the diners. To our left was a resplendent patio that overlooked India Street. Although the patio would have been my preference, I absolutely adored the soundtrack Po Pazzo presented, consisting of older Italian favorites, some light Billy Joel, and silky opera—a mixture that seemed quite relevant to the Italian-American theme.
Almost completely immersed in the setting, I was brought back to the present when our waitress Wendy approached us with such a friendly style, I felt like I had known her my whole life. She began by explaining the reasoning behind the name Po Pazzo, which came about when Joe Busalacchi first thought about opening a steakhouse in the middle of Little Italy—a notion that seemed “a little crazy” to everyone. She explained that, in fact, Joe himself was a little crazy, and wanted the Italian Steakhouse to be elegant, but fun. This was apparent in the table settings, with water glasses that resembled the Leaning Tower of Pisa and curvy silverware, that had a similar slant. I automatically thought of those funny mirrors you find at carnivals were everything becomes disproportionate. It really was a fine dining restaurant that held true to its playful promise.
Wendy poured my dining companion a glass of King Estate, Pinot Gris, and I an Australian Shiraz—Pure Love Layer Cake—which I adored for its light sweetness. The wine list was impressive with different regions of Italian, Latin, and French wines, totaling 234 selections to choose from.
The starter was a light, fresh baguette sided by a tangy marinara sauce like no other. The sauce was extremely flavorful, with undertones of olive oil, garlic, pepper, and oregano, made hearty with chunky tomatoes. It certainly did its job by whetting our appetite, and remained my snack between plates.
Wendy’s service was impeccable, and within a suitable amount of time, she brought out appetizers, three of Po Pazzo’s most popular—the Caprese, Crabs Cakes, and Oysters Rockefeller. The appetizers were a visual delight, coming out on cream plates embellished by a purple flower and drizzled balsamic reduction, cleverly reflecting the interior design of the restaurant.
The Caprese consisted of a thickly-sliced tomato layered by mozzarella and spinach leaves. It was a fresh eat, with a soft, yet crunchy, flair, and the tangy balsamic left me licking my lips. The Crab Cake featured puffy, palm-sized patties that were thick and bready, accompanied by a chilled creamy Remoulade sauce, which made a rather dry bite both lush and smooth. I saved the most enticing for last—the Oysters Rockefeller. Six oyster shells were filled with spinach sumptuously infused by a rich cheese sauce, and topped with chunks of Canadian bacon. These oysters perfectly blended a variety of flavors, creating an unmatched velvety decadence. They were so tasty I wished for more of this scrumptious dish—an opinion Wendy told me was in agreement with most of Pazzo’s patrons.
Next, Wendy came out with a cream-colored cup of opulently orange Lobster Bisque crowned by green pea shoots. I could hardly wait to scoop up this inveigling consommé, and as my spoon came to the surface I discovered ample lumps of lobster—a treat not usually supplied so liberally. This bisque had a pure lobster taste amongst the creamy and salty broth that was delightfully buttery in flair. I completely allowed the delicious soup to usurp my senses, and as the tender lobster melted in my mouth, I was disappointed to find the bottom of the cup so fast.
Following the bisque was a circular stacked Cucumber Salad forged out of petite bites of cucumber, avocado, corn, and tomatoes, sprinkled with hunks of blue cheese and thin pea shoots. Balsamic vinegar dressed the mound of veggies, and although this was a salad, the tiny size of the components tempted me to use my spoon as to be sure to get every last morsel. The salad was fresh, cool, and crisp, made slightly creamy by the avocado and zesty by the balsamic vinegar. I adored the crunchy creativity.
Jumbo Prawns, Seared Ahi Tuna au Poivre, and Spaghetti with Meatballs were the main courses of the meal, and all were incredibly colorful and fun to look at. The Jumbo Prawn plate radiated a yellow theme with capers, a lemon and white wine sauce, and garlic-flavored whipped potatoes. Atop the mound of spuds was a colossal pink shrimp that lie butterflied and flattened into a thick filet-like form, as well as large, crunchy asparagus stems. The light seasons of the dish were delicious and not too heavy.
The Ahi Tuna plate comprised of seared Ahi tuna, with a soft, dark pink center and a peppercorn crust. The fish was presented in thick slices crowning creamy whipped potatoes, accompanied by flavorsome shitake mushrooms, crunchy peas, chives, and teriyaki sauce. Suffused with pink and green colors, the dish was Asian in theme, making a familiar dish enjoyably exotic. Like the prawns, this dish was light and not too heavy.
The classic Spaghetti with Meatballs was doused in a red, softly sweetened sauce and was bursting with esculent muscle—large, house-made meatballs, juicy Italian sausages, and tender beef short ribs filled out the plate of al dente noodles. Each forkful was thick with zesty marinara and cheesy parmesan, coating the mouth-wateringly spiced selection of meat. Comforting and hearty, the dish was robust to say the least.
Of the variety of USDA Prime steaks, we chose to try the signature Sicilian Rib Eye, infused with Italian panache by being dusted with herbed bread crumbs. The steak was piquantly spiced, and the seasoning combined with the buttery juices of the tender, medium-rare steak, forcing me to chew every slice with attentive devotion—it was indeed sumptuous. Between bites, I enjoyed taking pleasure in the Truffle Fries—a familiar side reinvigorated Po Pazzo style. The smell of the truffle oil was purely intoxicating and allowed the thick layer of parmesan cheese dotted with chives to hug to every fry.
We finished our meal with a soft and fluffy Crème Brule, sprinkled with strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries—I was truly bedazzled by Po Pazzo’s presentation. I allowed my overstuffed body to succumb to the alluringly roomy booth, releasing a deep, relaxing sigh, and taking a second to take it all in. Po Pazzo had provided a charming ambiance matched by their exceptionally appetizing menu—a dining treat that one would be “a little crazy” to miss.