A Sacred Investment
Photographed by Jazz Martin
With the North End’s acclaim for incredible Italian cuisine, I’m impressed that there are always new restaurants in the area ready to make their own mark. They say if it isn’t broken you shouldn’t fix it, but sometimes it’s worth the gamble and you might get something even better.
Located just a few blocks from lively Hanover Street, Aqua Pazza has the “neighborhood hideaway” feel down to a science. The interior is clean, cozy and unpretentious, and we are seated by an open window overlooking Richmond Street where we can watch the world go by. Owner Michael Paquette comes over to introduce himself with the executive chef, Matthew Jackson. The pair’s enthusiasm is palpable; Michael talks about his vision for the restaurant while Matthew explains the story behind the ingredients.
We start tapas-style with arancini, burratinna, tonno, polipo, pancia di maiale and zucchinata. Arancini are seafood risotto cakes served with a house aioli, and they are delicious. Their crispy outsides showcase saffron and Old Bay seasoning, while the soft inside and tangy aioli bring it all together. The burratinna is not your average burrata: this dish is a special soft cheese, sourced from Italy, alongside a sweet tomato jam and topped with tart balsamic and roasted pistachios. Matthew tells us they “tried ten or more different types of burrata before they found the winning choice with the perfect taste and texture.” I’d say it was worth the effort, because this dish is incredible. Tonno is a nice palate cleanser, with fresh pieces of tuna, crisp radishes and fava bean puree. It’s light and the savory pieces of shallot and sea salt on top leave a satisfying aftertaste. The polipo is a great dish and one I would challenge everyone to try even if you don’t typically care for octopus. Grilled to the optimum texture, it is paired with a bed of firm cannellini beans, juicy tomatoes and topped with a thin layer of lardo, a type of salumi made by curing strips of fatback with rosemary, herbs and spices, for some extra bold flavor. The pancia di maiale consists of citrus-glazed pork belly, ricotta, pistachios and grilled peach slices which complement each other wonderfully.
Zucchinata, a combination of goat cheese stuffed blossoms paired with thinly sliced zucchini which is deep fried and then drizzled with truffle honey, is one of my favorite dishes, though I don’t typically favor this vegetable. Matthew explains that he had to test a lot of zucchini tempura to make sure they found the right thickness and breading for this dish. I’m also surprised to learn that they have a gluten-free fryer. Michael, who comes from a family with gluten restrictions, explains that this started out as a happy accident when they looked at the menu and realized almost everything was gluten-free. From there, Jackson says he took it as a challenge to go the extra mile and make the remaining dishes gluten-free, not only by preserving the flavor and texture, but by attempting to make them even better in the process.
Before we can blink, our main courses arrive and they are equally beautiful to the eye as they are delicious. The bolognese di maiale is another favorite of mine, with pappardelle pasta prepared al dente, with large flakes of grana padano and green onion then topped with pieces of savory, braised pork. It’s not what I was expecting from a bolognese, but it hits all the high marks. The orata showcases pan roasted sea bream with artichoke. It is topped with fennel and grapefruit to add a pop of citrus flavor that livens the dish. Lastly, we enjoy the namesake dish: the aqua pazza, which translates to “crazy water” and is beautifully plated with Maine lobster atop a bed of pasta and charred vegetables. The “crazy water” is a mixture of broth and juices that come from cooking the dish, and it comes out in a carafe to be poured over the dish before you dig in. The broth and pasta pair to make a light canvas for the explosion of flavor that comes from the charred tomatoes and juicy lobster. It is a treasure to experience both visually and on the palate.
We are just barely able to save room for dessert, so we share a bright key lime tart layered with hints of green tea and saffron that gives a heavenly finish to the meal. As our plates are cleared, I tell Michael that I feel like I didn’t just dine, but rather I received the whole Aqua Pazza experience. Michael lights up and nods. He says his favorite part of dining out—and what he hopes comes across here—is the exchange of money for a transformative evening through all of the senses. To taste food that took time, thought and dedication. In some eateries you might grab the food to go or stop in and eat without thinking. But for Michael, the restaurants that stand out are the ones with cuisine that the chefs cherish and that the diners remember and look forward to experiencing again. He calls it a “sacred investment.” A new generation for DePasquale Ventures.