October 25-31, 2006

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First Bite


By Carey Sweet

I came to Pazzo to experience Moroccan cuisine as it's presented in the heart of historic downtown Petaluma. And why not? The new restaurant also features food from Spain, Southern France, Italy and Greece, but to my stomach, Morocco seemed to have the most interesting address.

Mmm. A bit of Pazzo's chicken Marrakech ($18), perhaps, the young bird goosed with Moroccan spices, garlic, onions, tomatoes, eggplant and almonds. My sister Elisabeth, visiting from Japan and burned out on sushi and such, was all over it when I suggested the full-flavored African stuff for dinner.

My mom would always be in the mood, you betcha, for Pazzo's couscous primavera ($14), envisioning aromatic grains tossed with saut»ed seasonal vegetables, tomatoes, fresh herbs and a drizzle of rich, nutty argan oil. Blame it on a seductively written menu. We never got past Italy that night. Pazzo owners Bill and Beverly Woodbridge are as skilled with their pens as they are with their cooking, and their name for a veal dish layered with prosciutto, mozzarella and sage sautéed in a Marsala demi-glace was simply too sexy to pass up: "Veal That'll Jump into Your Mouth" ($18).

After my first bite, I wasn't sorry I had defected, either. The dish was exquisite, altogether mellow, salty, creamy, smoky-wine-kissed and briskly pungent with fresh herb. A mound of basil-flecked mashed potatoes demonstrated what all ambitious spuds dream of becoming.

Elisabeth had been stopped in her tracks by the linguini prawns ($18), smitten by the ravishing-sounding sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, arugula, roasted garlic and olive oil topped with crumbled feta. It was beautiful, in fact, with four meaty shrimp and so much tangy cheese that we spread the extra feta on our bread, dipping it in excellent (not sugar-sodden!) balsamic.

As for mom, well, she had abandoned our African adventure just as soon as our waiter described an evening special of a "huge, juicy filet mignon, crusted in black peppercorn, over creamy risotto with mixed vegetables." Food like this, he swore, was one of the reasons he works at Pazzo--that steak ($28), his favorite lobster bisque ($7). It was "all so good, I'm not lying," he promised with such charming sincerity that I had to boost his tip when the bill came.

Bless the sampler platter ($14). The dish, whose composition can change depending on the mood of the kitchen, was on this night anchored by intensely herby grilled lamb slices, and redeemed our mission by allowing us to claim at least a taste of Morocco in our meal. Sharing the big plate were lovely fluffy spinach-stuffed spanokopita, more feta, lemony dolmades, hummus that was pleasantly chunky like cookie dough, and a mound of dried apricots, dried figs and mixed olives.

It's a fine place, this Pazzo, set in a vibrant space of cobalt and mustard walls pulsing with Putumayo global music. I came here to explore Africa, and discovered much broader continents of outstanding cuisine.

What a wonderful world.

Pazzo, 132 Keller St., Petaluma. Open for lunch, Monday-Friday; dinner, daily. 707.763.3333.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.