Mangia! Mangia!

Walking into Paolo’s is like walking into any other Georgetown restaurant. While this is an Italian restaurant, you will have to search to find any sense of Italy in the eatery, other than on the menu, of course. At 5 p.m. on Friday the restaurant does not have a waiting list, but it is definitely filling up. Although a bit bigger, Paolo’s setup is similar to most bar-restaurants in the area.

The lights are dim, the bar is full, booths line the wall and the music is blasting. If you want to be a bit more removed from this scene and actually be able to hear your fellow diners, ask to sit near one of the front windows or in the back room. If you want to stick it out in the smoking section, get ready to use those vocal chords because you’ll be yelling to your table-mates.

Paolo’s boasts a list of about a dozen specialty drinks and claims the bartender will create any of your favorites that go unlisted. The list strangely seems un-Italian, marked by margaritas, sangria and apple-tinis. The drink to order, however, is the mojito. It is a mix of rum, lime and mint. If you aren’t familiar with mojitos, don’t be surprised when your drink is served full of pieces of mint leaves. At first the taste may seem odd, but keep drinking, because it grows on you. This drink got its fame from Ernest Hemingway, who drank it in Cuba. Even though you may wonder why they are being served at an Italian restaurant, forget that hang-up, do a Google search and stock up on this Hemingway-mojito history so you can impress your date.

As you begin the liquid course of your meal, out come the bread sticks. These seeded bread sticks fall flat to the tongue, even when smothered with the spread that accompanies them. Skip this starter altogether, because the garlic breath you get will kill any chances of a kiss goodnight.

The salads here are pretty good, but get an appetizer to share – the minestrone is the right choice. This soup starts with a base of beef broth and is full of fresh vegetables, pasta and pieces of beef (vegetarians beware). What is surprising about this minestrone is the size – the soup is served in a bowl the size of a plate. The size makes it big enough to share (ask to have it separated into two bowls) or to serve as your entree.

If you aren’t going the soup route, Paolo’s boasts a menu of pizza, pastas and entrees that are said to blend the tastes of Italy with a dash of California. But if you want the taste of the Golden state, you probably will have to search to find it here (head to Baja Fresh to get the real deal). The West Coast flavor is found in the “Main Plates,” which include roasted split chicken, rockfish fillet, filet mignon or the volcano of sea scallops. The dishes are the best choice for patrons who aren’t in the mood for Italian.

But, because you chose an Italian restaurant, chances are you came for pizza or pasta, and word on the street is that Paolo’s is the place for pasta. If you try the fresh Parmesan raviolinis, you’ll agree. The raviolinis are stuffed with cheese and then dipped in pesto. The curveball is that they are served on top of a bolognese sauce. While pesto and tomato sauce never seemed a likely match, Paolo did something right when he put this combo together.

The crab cannelloni is a different story. You won’t find a big fat Italian wedding in this dish. Cheese, spinach and crab are combined together and wrapped within a piece of pasta, almost like an enchilada. Two of these are put on your plate in an “X” and then are surrounded by a white cheese sauce and topped with a corn relish. The corn relish is refreshing – the blend of yellow corn, cucumber and herbs is delicious. It seems out of place, though, with its cool temperature on top of the hot cannelloni.

If you are a crab lover, think twice before you order this dish, because the “jumbo lump crab” isn’t jumbo at all. The shreds of crabmeat are almost indecipherable in the spinach and cheese mix. Even if your eyes get a look at it, it’s highly unlikely that you will get to savor the taste of the crab, because the spinach and cheese not only camouflage the crabmeat, but also overpower its taste.

If you are low on cash, don’t worry, you can still dine at Paolo’s. Stick with the pizza – it’s only eight or nine dollars and actually less expensive than the salads. Entrees and pasta dishes range from $8.95 to $20.95. The bonus of the pizza is that it is made until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturdays, so if you are looking for some late night munchies after a night at the bars, Paolo’s is the place to go.

It’s not the place for a first date, however. While the restaurant is set with low-lighting and candlelit tables that could set a romantic mood, the high noise level and poor service will ruin the night if your date can’t laugh it off. The bussing is efficient, but the wait staff seems inattentive.

If you want a friendly face, bring one with you and buy them a mojito and a late-night pizza. Paolo’s is a good choice if you are already out in the Georgetown bars, get a pizza craving, but don’t want to slow down. Here, you can easily satisfy your hunger needs and your night out for drinks.

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