An East Side foodie friend of mine had nothing but good things to say about Coco Pazzo, so I went to this College Hill restaurant with fairly high expectations. Things got off to an excellent start when I got a parking spot right across the street. The friendly wait staff stationed outdoors offered us a table on the sidewalk patio or inside; the high humidity had us heading up a short flight of stairs for some air-conditioned comfort. It also afforded us a look at the completely new interior. What for years had been an Asian restaurant is now an open and airy space with an interesting copper-colored tin ceiling. In the center of the main dining room is a long communal table, a great spot for making new friends. In one corner we spotted the Mugnaini pizza oven – another good sign that this is a restaurant that knows what it’s doing.
“Coco Pazzo” is the playful way of saying “crazy chef” in Italian. We can’t attest to anyone’s sanity, but we can vouch for the kitchen’s creativity. Once again we found ourselves in a Providence restaurant with a very original menu, the kind of place we could go to again and again and still find something new to try. The appealing menu offers tapas, appetizers, salads, pasta, entrees, sides and pizza. What to try first? For starters, I was torn – the Prosciutto Di Parma and Burrata board begged for my attention, as did the New Zealand Mussels in sweet rosemary cream and the basket of Frittola, miniature doughboys stuffed with Italian cold cuts.
In the end, it was the Deep Fried Oysters ($7) and the Zucchini Fritter ($5) that intrigued me the most for our first course. The battered oysters were fried until golden and served with salsa verde, which I didn’t even get into – I’m such a purist when it comes to the true taste of an oyster. With the fritter, I somehow expected something along the lines of that fleeting summer appetizer, a stuffed zucchini flower. Instead, it was a rather large, savory patty served with a pistachio nut dip. I thought I’d have just a bite or two, but found myself consuming the entire fritter with its equally unusual dip.
This was one of those nights when almost everything we requested was not available. Brian wanted to try one of the many beers listed on the extensive drink menu, but they did not have his first choice. Then he asked for the halibut as his entrée, which was also not available. I was thrilled to see Branzino on the menu – I’ve seen this exotic fish dish only in Boston restaurants – but I too was told they were out. Disappointed, we ended up each ordering a pasta dish and sharing the Chicken Cutlet Milanese.
One of my favorite pasta dishes is anything done in the style of carbonara, which led me to order the Fettucine Carbonara European Style ($15). This was a rather soupy version – tasty, but the mixture of fried bacon, eggs and Parmesan cheese had not thickened enough. All the carbonara dishes I’ve loved over the years were much drier and more pleasing to my palate. A much more successful pasta dish was Brian’s choice of Aglio Olio ($13), a bowl of delicate angel hair pasta with plenty of black olives and garlic oil and just a hint of anchovy.
The Chicken Cutlet Milanese ($14) was the big winner of the night, an ideal dish to share. Two chicken cutlets, generous in size, were coated in breadcrumbs and sautéed in olive oil. Presentation is everything with any Milanese-style dish, and this was done beautifully with the golden chicken cutlets topped with plenty of arugula that was dressed with lemon juice and more olive oil.
Desserts also got high marks that night. The Warm Apple Crostata ($7) served with caramel sauce was flaky and just sweet enough. The Sicilian Cannoli ($2) was superb, filled with a pleasing combination of ricotta and mascarpone.
So, much like my foodie friend, I liked Coco Pazzo despite the few bumps in the road. Everything was very fresh, and the menu was so original. The brick oven pizzas delivered to a nearby table looked appealing. They aren’t very large, more suited to an individual serving, but their prices are in line with their size ($7 to $8).
Coco Pazzo is part of a restaurant group that includes the English Cellar Alehouse and The Apartment, both in Providence, and 505 Tapas Bar & Lounge and Sharx Bar and Grille, both in Cranston.