"Sophisticated" and Little Italy don't always go together unless you're dining at Aldo's, and then do they ever. The menu is over the top--tournedos Rossini with seared Hudson Valley foie gras and Italian black truffle and porcini mushroom sauce; butter-poached lobster risotto deglazed with Highland scotch--as are the prices, and the wine list is packed with big name Italian (and American) bottles. If your pockets are deep and your palate is willing, a feast awaits.
Sometimes you just gotta have Italian food. Lucky for us in these difficult economic times there's Amicci's, a no-frills, moderately priced Italian comfort-food wonder palace with entrées two to three dollars cheaper than the neighbors. We've gushed over the appetizer pane rotundo, a bread bowl filled with seafood and sauce, ad nauseam. Why not try the luscious eggplant parmigiana along with one of Amicci's reasonably priced glasses of wine?
If there's a warmer, cozier spot in Little Italy, we haven't found it yet. Gia Blatterman-Fugate's café on the corner of High Street and Eastern Avenue offers hearty Sicilian fare at very reasonable prices (and you can bring your own bottle, $5 corkage fee). Pasta entrees like ravioli positano or homemade gnocchi impress more than starters, but be sure to save room for homemade cannolis flecked with lemon zest.
Just a few blocks from the largely Southern Italian stylings of Little Italy sits Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf's upscale Northern Italian culinary extravaganza. Physically divided into a bistro-like enoteca and a more formal osteria (plus a handsome bar area), the restaurant dishes the same excellent fare throughout, serving up choice charcuterie, pastas, and one of the most adroit and flavorful entrée line-ups in town, changing seasonally, but rife with rich ingredients and the occasional game item. There's a section of the formidable menu devoted to gourmet versions of staples like lasagna and spaghetti-and-red, but the timid miss out.
Situated in an Overlea strip mall, Frank's doesn't look like much from the outside (the inside is no designer's delight either), but the food and neighborly service make you want to linger anyway. Thin-crust pizzas and chubby meatball subs bring out the kid in us, but don't overlook homemade pastas, especially ones featuring seafood, like linguini a la pescatore or the crab-based pasta a la Felice. You order from the counter, eat on paper plates, and BYOB.
Grano, a tiny pasta bar that opened in Hampden last year, does pretty much one thing, but it does it well. Choose a pasta, choose a sauce, start eating. Simple, unpretentious, it is what it is and it does what it does. Seats are limited, so it gets a little full, but the employees are friendly enough to make the wait worthwhile.
We enjoy Little Italy, but when we're looking for a fancy Italian meal, we often end up in midtown at Sotto Sopra. The swank, dimly lit dining room instantaneously makes a meal romantic, the offerings are inventive--we love the duck-stuffed ravioli--and even classic fare is always a step above: The mussels in a simple but flavorful white wine sauce might be the best we've ever had. Now, if only we could figure out the mural on the dining room wall.
The charm of the Little Italy Vaccaro's on a hot night is undeniable, especially if the old men are out playing bocce ball or Cinema Paradiso is being projected on the wall across the way. What its Canton counterpart lacks in old-world appeal it makes up for in modernity. Sleek and brightly lit, the O'Donnell Street Vaccaro's is contemporary and actually big enough for you to not only sit down in, but see the entire pastry and gelato case.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201