When the Foreman Wolf team opened Pazo back in 2004, it seemed a big step for Baltimore. The soaring space, elegant nightclub vibe and on-trend small-plates menu conjured more glamorous cities. Charm City’s restaurant options have expanded since then, and Pazo’s owners decided it was time for a facelift. Their Bar Vasquez is a leap across the globe from its predecessor’s Mediterranean menus to Argentina. If you’ve never been to the country of Evita, you might think beef (or beeves) and Malbec, mountain views and European-influenced architecture. Tony Foreman, who has traveled extensively in the region, has sought to recreate all that.
Décor. Working with Katie Destefano, an interior designer and owner of Curiosity in Harbor East, the Bar Vazquez team lightened up much of the space. Velvet banquettes were reupholstered in faux-sharkskin, walls painted in gold-leaf stenciling resemble mosaic. Destefano tracked down a taxidermy head of a shorthorn bull (common in Argentina), and upholstered the upstairs whiskey bar with hides and nail heads. Large potted plants, mid-century inspired lighting and a matchstick shade on the oversized window (you expect a view of the Pampas, not of the brick building next door) add to the South American affect.
Food. Chef Mario Catalan, who manned the wood-burning brick oven when Pazo first opened, has moved his way up the Foreman Wolf food chain to the top toque at Bar Vasquez. His cuisine combines some of the flavors of his Mexican homeland with European techniques picked up in the States. (He breaks down a goat a couple of times a week, using the parts for everything from tenderloin to ragu for pasta.) The meat-heavy Vasquez menu includes steaks imported from an estancia in Uruguay and seared on all sides, absorbing the flavor of wood smoke. While the generously proportioned slabs are pricy, other options come cheaper—beef empanadas, sweet corn tamales, fugazza (flatbread) …
Drink. Foreman and bar manager/sommelier Sam Massa, who hails from the Foreman Wolf-owned Bin 604, sampled some 1,500 Argentinian and other South American wines for Vasquez’s selection. A wall in the upstairs dining room is stacked just with Malbec, with prices ranging from $22 to $200 a bottle. Other offerings include the usual suspects from the region, like Torrontés, Bonarda, pinot noir and cabernet, as well as a smattering of labels from Europe and North America. The mezzanine whiskey bar offers a build-your-own Manhattan and Old Fashioned menu, with pours from around the world to mix and match with bitters, vermouths and more.
Desserts. Don’t miss pastry chef Michael Brown’s red wine-poached pear, a deeply sweet cored fruit packed with ice cream and drizzled with honey and walnuts.
Final Verdict. The transformation from Pazo to Bar Vasquez brings new—and energizing—life to the former Spanish standby.