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Nth Time May Be The Charm For New Italian Delight At Midtown Address

Christopher Myers

Sammy’s Trattoria

Address:1200 N. Charles St.
Baltimore, MD 21201

More on Sammy’s Trattoria.

By Richard Gorelick | Posted 7/26/2006

Sammy’s Trattoria is a smart place. In its early days, Sammy’s is far from flawless, but it appears to have a good head on its shoulders--and there’s convincing evidence of details having been professionally thought through. The owner is Sam Curreri, formerly of Chiapparelli’s, and his neatest trick is in synthesizing the big-bowl accessibility of Little Italy dining with the square-plate panache of uptown dining.

Sammy’s still looks a lot like Tampico and Limoges, the two previous tenants of this upmarket address--still lofty with those sunny yellow walls, gleaming open kitchen, warm wood floors, gorgeous back-of-the-bar mirror, and handsomely set tables. And still that muddy marble bar with the hinged service opening at the wrong end, up near the entrance, away from the tables. But now, greeting diners is the unmistakable aroma of meatballs. This makes you feel good.

The menu makes perfect sense. It’s fundamentally a manageable offering of standard Southern Italian fare, but pitched just slightly toward grown-up palates. Or maybe the food just looks a little more sophisticated served in white square bowls, because duck ravioli is about as edgy the menu gets. Pasta selections are priced in the teens (toss-ins of crab, shrimp, or marinated chicken cost more), and the 10 entrées range from $17.99 (for chicken parmigiana, Marsala, or piccata) to $29.99 for a veal tenderloin. (Entrées are served with a side of penne or spaghetti.) The printed menu is further notable for its miniscule fonts and occasional shout-outs to friends and patrons--or friendly patrons: the veal tenderloin is "just for the Carter family," the veal invollattini is "a Wissel family favorite," and the pappardelle Alfredo, when cooked with shrimp and crab, is "alla Ashleigh and Tyler."

Most everything tried made at least a nice impression. Portions, especially of pasta entrées, are enormous--possibly too big. Fresh herbs are evident, especially basil, and the food really does have a homemade quality. The pasta e fagioli soup ($4.99) is outstanding--firm beans and square-shaped pasta, tossed into a hearty tomato broth with bitter broccoli rabe. And the house salad ($3.99) gives the icebox-crunchy, garlic-creamy mouth pleasure of those much loved Little Italy war-horses. The breading on Sammy’s fried calamari ($7.99) has a nice flavor, and its accompanying marinara is zippy and chunky--though it came out so fast that it didn’t taste freshly fried. The anipasti Freddi ($7.99) consists of lovely prosciutto, and silky mozzarella, layered with tomatoes and basil, all drizzled with olive oil and splashed with balsamic vinegar, with olives and capers tossed in. The only thing missing was some something else--a stuffed pepper, a marinated mushroom, some caponata, anything to make more a little more noise.

Sammy’s pesto, as applied to slurpy pappardelle, is less a cheesy paste than a generous tossing of coarsely chopped basil leaves and roasted pine nuts, an impressively fresh take on a familiar theme. It’s always nice to see a carbonara ($14.99) on the menu, and Sammy’s version showed finesse with light cream and fresh Parmesan cheese, but an inexplicable withholding of salt and pepper made the dish taste bland. Not enough of whatever meat it was, either.

Chicken parmigiana ($17.99) was a simple success, a well-pounded, lightly breaded breast, smothered with Sammy’s good, fresh tomato sauce and not overly smothered with cheese: plain but good and satisfying. But about that Carter family favorite, the veal tenderloin, described on the menu as medallions "seasoned, rubbed with roasted garlic, and pan-seared to order"--it tasted overwhelmingly of sherry, and the rustic qualities the menu suggested were in scant evidence. Served with fresh spinach and a robust mushroom risotto, the dish isn’t a dud, just a signal to invest in Sammy’s smaller-ticket items for the time being.

Sammy’s is opening at just the right time. There’s ramp-up time for the fall cultural season, time to sharpen up the already enthusiastic staff. Sammy’s might finally be the rare Mount Vernon place that ends up pleasing the palates and budgets of its immediate neighbors. It’s a lively place, and it’s fairly simple to construct an affordable, filling meal. The staff is attentive here, especially the busser who brought over a bar stool without being asked, and the host who was willing to seat part of our party before we all had arrived. In place of culinary drama, street smarts are refreshingly welcome.

E-mail Richard Gorelick

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