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Paprika: More Spice, Please

Despite claiming to “fill a niche all its own,” Paprika, cucina Italiana, is very much like most other neighborhood Italian eateries downtown: rustic, friendly, and comfortable. The earthy space on St. Mark’s hustles and bustles without pretention, serving ‘peasant-style’ food to young well-dressed locals.

The very crowded main dining room features bare wooden tables squashed together, painted white exposed brick, simple red fabric banquettes, and kitschy farmhouse art. The candlelit glow lends an air of sophistication to the otherwise homey scene, while the uncovered wooden floorboards echo everything from soft whispers to raucous laughter. If one word could accurately describe Paprika, it must surely be boistrous.

The food is regional Northern Italian comfort food, featuring big bold flavors and fresh ingredients (sound familiar?). Think: saffron risotto arancini balls with roasted tomato puree, beef carpaccio with arugula, truffle oil and parmesan, homemade taglierini with fresh lemon zest, cream and shrimps, or grilled butcher steak with marinated winter vegetables. The chef plays around with sweet, salty, savory, and spicy pairings – no mincing of flavors here!

After a food network special on prosciutto, my boyfriend and I both immediately gravitated towards the antipasti misto – a wooden slab covered in prosciuttio, bresoala, salami, and parmesan. When paired with the fluffy fresh-baked bread, this simple and hearty starter only left me wanting more!

As for main courses, I adventurously opted for the ‘Typical Valtellina Recepie,’ a risotto taglietelle with cabbage, parmesan, and mushrooms. The jury’s still out on whether this adventure was worth-while. Objectively, the food tasted great – it was complex, bold, and unlike any pasta dish I have ever had. And yet, I couldn’t finish it due to my own confusion on whether my palate was actually enjoying what it was eating. Strange, I know. My date gobbled up his black linguine with shrimp and spicy tomato sauce, noting that it went down easy and was a great value. Both of us finished our mains satisfied but not entirely wowed.

Paprika is loud and throbbing with energy – it’s great for an intimate birthday celebration (there were three the night I went…) and for a long leisurely dinner with friends. The food won’t knock your socks off nor will it offer anything truly awe-inspiring, yet surely that’s not Paprika’s function. Eat some good pasta; drink cheap red wine; and be prepared to shout your conversations as the high decibel level will seem to render both loud and quiet talkers almost mute.

Paprika Cucina Italiana on Urbanspoon

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