VALENTINE’S DAY GUIDE: Paolo’s appeals to varied tastes

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to just be about a small quiet restaurant filled with couples forced to engage in awkward conversations, with prices that drain the wallet. Paolo’s restaurant in Georgetown offers the perfect alternative to make the holiday fun with a date or a group of friends. The California-style Italian restaurant offers a variety of imaginative pasta dishes, salads, grilled seafood and meats.

The main dining room can be noisy at times, with music that attracts a young crowd. An open-bar area, kitchen and wood-burning oven for homemade pizzas create a busy and sometimes crowded atmosphere. The wood-paneled walls and ceiling are reminiscent of a pub, but mirrors make the room feel larger. A second dining area that is more open and quiet provides a respite from the bustle. Servers are knowledgeable and prompt, but meal mix-ups sometimes occur.

Perhaps the best part of the meal is free: Paolo’s famous warm breadsticks covered in poppy and sesame seeds. What makes the breadsticks unique is the spread that accompanies them. The green olive spread may sound and look a little too eclectic for the non-adventurous to try, but its flavor will make you glad you did.

Main courses vary, offering something for everyone from vegetarian meals to seafood. Portions are perfectly sized and will not leave anyone hungry. The personal pizzas are Bertucci’s style, with fresh tomatoes, pesto, chicken and garganzola and goat cheeses. Some pastas are traditional but satisfying, such as raviolis in bolognese sauce, but most have a touch of zest, such as the tortellini rose – cheese-filled pasta in a light tomato cream sauce with portabello mushrooms and sundried tomatoes.

Meat-lovers can choose from various grilled chicken dishes, veal, or a filet mingon with garlic mashed potatoes. Seafoods include the grilled salmon and shellfish bowl with clams, mussels and shrimp over pasta. Specials added to the menu each night make Paolo’s a different dining experience with each visit. The wine list is extensive, to accompany any meal starting at $6 a glass and $24 a bottle. There are few desserts – an orange cr?me brulee, chocolate cake, tiramisu and New York-style cheesecake.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.