Big taste in a tiny package: Check out Paolo’s

1303 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.
(202) 333-7353
Reservations: recommended on weekends and holidays
Attire: casual
Price Range: $10-25

Whether it’s a weeknight dinner or a weekend brunch, take a seat at this spacious Georgetown restaurant, located on the corner of Wisconsin and N streets. Pleasant outdoor dining, roomy tables, cozy booths and a small bar accommodate diners seeking a gourmet Italian meal. Breadsticks covered in poppy and sesame seeds and served with tapenade are a nice substitute for the usual roll and butter. Tapenade is a delicious spread with green olives, garbanzo beans, eggplant, roasted red peppers, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. If you don’t have a compact on hand, head to the restrooms or use your knife as a mirror to check for poppy seeds peppering your smile.

A fair number of appetizers are offered, but they appeal to limited palates. The aroma of the fried calamari trails through the restaurant, causing heads to turn and mouths to water. The chef seems to have a fetish for goat cheese, because it is included in the crispy eggplant appetizer and many of the other plates. Salads are not a major part of the menu but are generous in size. Diners can choose between Caesar, roasted red pepper and feta, and espresso-rubbed steak salads.

With a limited menu, patrons have little to choose from in the way of entrees. Although the menu is sparse, the pizzas and pastas are plentiful. The Italian hoagie pizza, pizza Angelo and white pizza are just a few of the different pies, topped heavily with meats and large enough for two people. The pastas range from simple spaghetti to goat cheese butternut ravioli and all are rich in flavor but a little heavy on the cream.

Paolo’s weekend brunch menu doesn’t offer a variety of breakfast plates, but the select few are tasty. The double-stuffed Italian toast is a favorite among those daring enough to try something completely different from ordinary French toast. Two slices of bread are dipped in egg custard and browned; stuffed with walnuts, raisins, chocolate, honey and spiced ricotta cheese; and garnished with fresh berry compote. If sweet stuff doesn’t hit your spot, the menu includes a pizza frittata, sausage and potato torta or white omelette.

Specials offer one additional dish from each course and wines by the glass, and they change daily. The dessert tray is pleasing to the eye and the palate, consisting of mandarin creme brulee, tiramisu, New York-style mint cheesecake, flour-less chocolate espresso torte, profiterole stuffed with pistachio ice cream over a chocolate gonache and the newly added carrot cake.

The menu may look big but offers little; the pizza and pasta are your best bets. Most choices are delicious, but if you’re lactose intolerant beware: goat cheese is a staple item at this place. Whether you’re taking in the fresh spring air, tucked away at a table or nestled into a booth, Paolo’s is sure to offer a limited yet pleasing Italian meal.

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