Bonkers? No, just crazy good.
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  August 12, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

PAZZO’S “GNUDI” Looks like gnocchi, is made of ricotta, and tastes great — like unclothed ravioli in a terrific sauce of duck meat and mushrooms.

Pazzo | 269 Newbury Street, Boston | 617.267.2996 | Open Monday–Thursday, noon–10 pm; Friday, noon –11 pm; and Saturday and Sunday, 10 am–11 pm | AE, MC, VI | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access to café tables and wheelchair-access via rear of building | No valet parking
Name-wise, Pazzo (Italian for "bonkers") is trying to compete with Via Matta ("crazy route"). Location-wise, the karma is mixed — this was the original address of Davio's, but more recently Croma. The latter was an attempt to sell Boston, home of the earliest reference to pizza in any American newspaper, on the virtues of pizza as they like it in the North of England. It also had tandoori chicken pizza. How crazy was that?

Chef-wise, my colleague MC Slim JB thinks of Pazzo executive chef Bill Bradley as a major-leaguer batter coming back from a rehab stretch in the suburbs. Having missed Bradley's opening stint at the Carmen, I tend to think of him as a really good relief pitcher — collecting the save for Marisa Iocco at Bricco and cleaning up Rustic Kitchen after a shaky start by Todd English. His style is Italian, a little minimalist, and strongest on the pasta courses.

But here's Bradley making a spot start at Pazzo, and he's dazzling in the opening innings. His Venetian-style frito misto ($12) mixes familiar calamari, less-familiar Maine rock shrimp (sweet as bay scallops), unfamiliar caper berries, green beans, and the most extraordinary fried lemon slices — dry yet tart. There is a peppery mayonnaise dip, too, but who cares?

His bread is holey sourdough with some crust; the dip is near-liquid white-bean paste and olive oil, the better to coat the tongue with garlic. Grilled artichokes ($8) are simply dabbed with feta cheese and a lemon-mint marinade. Another Bradley signature is bruschetta, this one based on toasting that terrific sourdough bread. The appetizer version ($7) is flavored with Italian tuna and covered with white beans, arugula, and olives that all get tuna-fied. You also get three bruschetta in the mussels appetizer ($10), a big heap of summer mussels in a peppery tomato sauce that had us eating the toasts in preference to the shellfish.

Rustic Kitchen was a crash course in postmodern pizzetta for Bradley, but at Pazzo he has settled into a mature style. The most radical pie uses cambazola cheese ($12), a century-old combination of a triple cream with a mild blue cheese. (Think: CAMemBert/gorgonZOLA.) It looks like a regular four-slice cheese pizza, but tastes like blue cheese — when you aren't eating a dab of strong olive relish or a slice of roasted garlic. That's a lot of flavor, and the thin crust has bubbles of gooey, fresh bread at the edges. For a light supper, combine it with the local farmers salad ($8), made with golden beets, white beans, spinach, bits of olive, and an interesting aged feta.

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Related: Gennaro's 5 North Square Ristorante, 2009: The year in dining, Chiazza Trattoria, More more >
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