Excellence is the speciality at Paolo's Ristorante in Harborplace


The hours for Paolo's at Harborplace were listed incorrectly in the July 25 review. The correct hours are: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday; 10:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday; pizza menu served until 1 a.m.

What a pity that such superb food is served amid such chaos. Paolo's fare deserves a quieter setting than Harborplace.

While Baltimore's preeminent tourist attraction is fine for fried dough and stand-up hot dogs, it is inappropriate for Paolo's, which specializes in fine Italian food and pizza cooked in a wood-burning stove. This food deserves all the attention diners have to give; it should not have to compete with the countless diversions of Harborplace.

My husband and I met at Paolo's on a recent weeknight. Harborplace was everything it should be.

Couples promenaded past the pavilions. Jugglers entertained in the amphitheater. The Kruzenshtern, a 65-year-old, four-masted Soviet sailing ship, dwarfed everything on shore; its red hammer-and-sickle ensign waving in the gentle breeze yards from the American Cafe.

We entered Paolo's curious, not really knowing what to expect. Several friends had given us a positive impression. They were, if anything, not positive enough.

Our meal was excellent, from start to finish, with only the slightest of weaknesses. With each course, we realized that this was superlative food -- delightfully innovative, creatively seasoned, beautifully presented -- a treat to the senses.

But there were two constant distractions: Paolo's loud "background" music and the bustle, both inside and out. The music, we suspected, was loud in hopes of drowning out the passing parade.

Because the evening was hot, we asked for a table inside, though many people were dining outdoors. We began with an order of Fried Italian Eggplant ($4.95) and a Plum Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella Salad ($5.95).

The slices of batter-fried eggplant formed a pyramid surrounded by a sea of chunky, fresh tomato sauce. In this sea were two islands of whipped goat cheese. While the eggplant was good by itself, the sauce and cheese made it delicious. These were different accompaniments to a traditional Baltimore dish.

The salad offered the first taste of one of the night's most captivating themes, Paolo's use of basil. Fresh and subtle, but nothing less than full-flavored, the basil we had in several dishes was rungs above the restaurant norm.

The tomato wedges fanned out from a hill of cheese that had been cut into thin strips and crisscrossed. All were lightly dressed with the basil vinaigrette, which complemented the creamy, almost too-mild, cheese.

We moved along to Oak-Roasted Chicken ($11.95) for me and Tortellini Rose ($9.95) for my husband.

The large serving of chicken legs and thighs was tender inside with an herby crust that reminded me of Greek-style chicken. It was good, but not great, and proved difficult to eat with any grace.

The accompanying vegetables -- spinach and a medley of pTC squash -- were nicely prepared. The two polenta sticks were tasteless.

The tortellini, on the other hand, was a rich work of art. Filled with pesto and Gorgonzola, it was served with roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and a cream-based tomato sauce.

Sinful as this was, the best was yet to come.

The desserts, made in the kitchen of this four-restaurant group in Rockville, were wonderful. I took our waitress' suggested favorite, Tiramisu ($5.25), lady fingers dipped lightly in Kahlua and then layered with mascarpone, an Italian cream cheese that was rich with a long-lasting flavor.

My husband found the White Chocolate Banana Pie ($5.25) luxurious. The crust was sweet and flaky;the filling cooling but extravagant; the raspberry cream on the side a wonderful touch. With these, we enjoyed Paolo's very good coffee ($1.25).

We took home a Roasted Vegetable Pizza ($7.95) -- all in the name of research, you know. The peppers of many colors made it beautiful; the mixture of cheese and veggies on a thin crust made it tasty, to say the least, even two days later.

The service was attentive and friendly, though it took on a tag-team approach when two men served the food we had ordered from a woman. Naturally, they weren't clear on who had ordered what.

Our bill, with one cocktail, one soft drink, two glasses of wine and a side order of spinach, was $79.02. I found a couple of items -- the salad and the desserts -- overpriced. But this is Harborplace and when it comes to price, you cannot discount the atmosphere. Even though the atmosphere, in this case, did not add to our dining pleasure.


Paolo's Ristorante

Light Street Pavilion,



Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight, Saturday and Sunday; pizza menu served until 1:30 a.m.

Reservations: None accepted

Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.

Handicapped access: Accessible.

Smoking: Separate areas designated

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