When Chef Irtan Bleta opened I Pazzi in 2008, he named his restaurant after the Italian word for fools, because everyone thought he was crazy for opening a restaurant in the depths of a recession. Fifteen years later, the joke is on them: Bleta’s handmade pasta and focus on locally grown and seasonal food attracted a loyal following. Now he has purchased a building just down the street where, in addition to the dishes that grew his reputation, he has a wood-burning grill to cook prime steaks.
Bleta’s new space is barely recognizable from the building’s previous incarnations (it was once a Friendly’s and then a bank), with three distinct dining experiences—an elegant main dining room along the windows in the front, a lively bar in the center, and a seating area, referred to as the “Chef’s Table” on the reservation platform, which has a full view of the open kitchen and that glowing fireplace.
The menu changes frequently—sometimes over the course of dinner service—so contemplate your choices with something from the thoughtful cocktail list—perhaps the Hummingbird, made with Hum Botanical Spirit, an amaro-like liqueur with hints of hibiscus and lime, and prosecco—it’s a refreshing, lower-proof way to open your evening. If the bone marrow toast is on the menu, order it—the bone is split the long way, revealing a wealth of luxurious marrow inside. Your only regret might be that it comes with only two pieces of toast, so order the sourdough starter as well if you prefer not to finish the marrow off with a spoon.
An ideal accompaniment is the fig salad, stuffed with gorgonzola and mascarpone, and tossed with berries, prosciutto, and arugula. Vegetables are often grown locally. Bleta sources exclusively seasonally and organically and lists Iron Ox Farm in Gloucester among his providers. The drizzle of sweet, bright vincotto pulls the salad together and also provides a nice balance to the richness of the bone marrow.
All the pasta is made in house, using ancient emmer flour, which gives it a toothsome quality. The fettuccini with seasonal mushrooms arrives under a cloche that is removed tableside, to intensify the earthy aromas. The mixture of mushrooms is topped with a lavish shaving of fresh summer truffle, heightening the experience.
Main courses include a number of fish dishes sourced from a network of regional purveyors, including Cherry Street Fish Market in Danvers. A recent night featured an Alaskan Halibut Porterhouse, a generous portion of perfectly cooked fish served on a slender T-bone, emulating a steak.
The accoutrements of arugula, beets, and honeynut squash, and a sprinkling of hazelnuts, elevated the fresh fish. All the steaks are prime beef, dry-aged for at least 35 days and served with house-made steak sauce.
You can’t go wrong with the 20-ounce sirloin—the wood-fired grill yields a perfect crust enclosing a tender, perfectly cooked interior. Order a side of the duck fat roasted potatoes. You won’t regret it. Service is attentive and friendly.
The staff is quite knowledgeable about Bleta’s methods and sourcing, and is well trained on the thoughtful by-the-glass wine list, which has a strong focus on Italy. Desserts are made in house and change frequently. A recent night’s offerings included a carrot cake that was moist and redolent of cinnamon, served with a pool of caramel sauce that you could dip your cake into or just scrape up with a spoon.
I Pazzi always has house-made gelato on its dessert menu, at least a half-dozen flavors (also available to-go from the attached takeout shop). A recent night featured an intense black cherry gelato, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them. In fact, you’d be foolish not to try at least a scoop.
51 High St., Danvers, 978-777-1955, ipazzirestaurant.com