Mix and Match
Another Delicious, Complicated Treat From The Charleston Group
After a few visits, Cinghiale, the newest adventure in dining from Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf (Charleston, Pazo, Petit Louis), gets easier. There's much to absorb, including visual information and basic menu-operating procedure. It turns out to be easier than it looks at first. Still, Cinghiale might be the first restaurant in Baltimore designed for patrons who can pronounce its name, or at least try to--it's "cheen-GYAH-lay"--which, in Italian, is wild boar.
Cinghiale comprises two distinct spaces, the Enoteca, the mammoth and dazzling central wine bar, and the Osteria, the more subdued and formal dining rooms on the wings. Each space has its own menu and method of dining--grazing, basically, from a menu of appetizers, pastas, cured meats, salads, and sandwiches, in the Enoteca; and a three-course approach with plated entrées in the Osteria. A wrinkle: The Osteria's menu and course method are available to patrons in the Enoteca. This review deals with the Enoteca only, although, as will be seen, raids were made on the Osteria's menu.
Try this. Take in a late Saturday afternoon movie at the new theater and afterward walk over to Cinghiale. Sit at the Enoteca bar. Take in the Patrick Sutton-designed space, the terrazzo floor, the mahogany, the beveled glass. Order a glass of wine and a plate of assorted antipasti ($9 for one person, $15 for two), the composition of which, along with much of the menu, changes every night--we received cerignola olives roasted with rosemary and garlic, a small salad of baby octopus and thin slices of potato, and brined cauliflower. Or, better than that, order a plate of assorted cured meats ($12, $20), which are shaved very thinly and piled on the plate like rose petals. Then get a bowl of soup, absolutely the pasta e fagioli ($9), which here transcends its everyday origins with the addition of prosciutto, which tastes as if it's seasoned not only to the broth but to the pot it's cooked in.
Wonder about the space and what it's telling you. You could stay at the bar proper for hours. At any given time it is attended by three or four bartenders in white shirts and blue jeans, and you could continue ordering casually, partaking of a colorful fritto misto ($8), brown butter-fried zucchini and eggplant, a perfect thing, or a divine salad of balsamic-rimmed grilled treviso (a mild, more purple radicchio) with strips of tangy cow's milk bra duro ($11).
Still, amid the warm colors, there's a hardness about the room and its surfaces--the floor especially but also the wooden benches that form the booths--and it all feels deliberately formed, this brassiness, as though the invitation for the Enoteca is provisional: Stay, but not too long. Come, snack, leave--such is not a bad way to live, though. If I worked down there, I think that I'd drop in a few nights a week just for a glass of wine and a nibble. Some Piedmontese cheese, a mortadella and finocchiona sandwich on ciabbata ($11). Skip the flatbread sandwiches though, which have a free happy-hour feel about them.
If you can adjust to the room, which, without music playing, can feel lonesome or clattery, go for it. Make it an evening. The Osteria's menu, with its three-course system--antipasti, first, and second--jibes easily with the Enoteca menu, in that one person at a four-top can opt for it and not feel like the nut at the table. Even with the three-course approach, there are different options--à la carte, or a fixed price ($48, $70 with wine pairings). It's worth investigating; there are gorgeous things on the Osteria menu--a spit-roasted suckling pig nestled in savoy cabbage and pancetta ($29); a braised veal shoulder with cippolini, baby carrots, and white polenta ($31); a ragout of wild boar with gnocchi ($14, $27).
The more diversions you take, the better your improvisation, the more fun you'll have, and, true, the bill will climb. Because what started as a few olives ended up as a feast. Worry about all of that next year.