Friday, July 16, 2010

Mini-Restaurant Review: Cinghiale

Note: This review, like most of them on this site, is based on just one visit to the restaurant. So please keep that in mind.

A while back (OK, it's been two months and I'm a slacker), Cooper and I had dinner with our friends Alison and Sean one random Saturday night. Actually, it wasn't that random, since it was Alison's birthday, but the dinner was a fairly last-minute sort of deal.

Alison, if you need some backstory, is my friend from high school and was my roommate during my crazy younger days. Sean, her husband, was in Cooper's fraternity. Sean is also Mike's best friend from growing up and high school. Like everything about Baltimore, our little friendship corner is incestuous.

Anyway. Onto the meal. We decided to go to Cinghiale (822 Lancaster Street, 410-547-8282), Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman's Italian place in Harbor East. None of us had been there and we'd all wanted to go for a long time.

Cooper and I arrived early and had a drink at the bar, which was long and had an old school European vibe that I find immensely appealing. I am a sucker for big, somewhat tarnished mirrors, which is what hangs behind the bar, and for airy restaurants with a friendly, but not downscale, sort of feel. That's the vibe at Cinghiale. It seems like a restaurant that's been in the area for much longer than it has.

My cocktail was really excellent - it was a summery combination of basil and prosecco and limoncello that was perfect for the spring day. When we sat down at our table, I very nearly ordered another. But at that point, it was time to focus on the matter at hand: what we were going to eat.

The menu is a little overwhelming. There are a lot of options and several different paths that you, as a diner, can take. We opted for the more formal choices, though I'm sure the more casual "della Nonna" dishes are excellent as well.

Each of us decided to go with the three-course option which, when paired with wines, is $75 (without wine it is $52). As a result, we managed to try a variety of different dishes. So many, in fact, that I'm not going to write about them. But I did make a little chart of what we ordered. The dishes highlighted in yellow were the group favorites:

As you can see, I was not a big overall winner. Each of my dishes was good, but I always ended up wishing I'd ordered something else. The proscuitto di Cinghiale was tasty, but in the end, it was a big plate of proscuitto. The spaghetti with lobster and red sauce was also good but it wasn't anything exciting. And the duck, while excellent, was also very rare. I'm a rare meat-lover, but it was almost too rare for me.

By contrast, Alison's calamari was really perfectly cooked and Sean's veal chop was absolutely amazing. I can't pretend I wasn't wildly jealous.

One place I did come out ahead was in dessert. I ordered a selection of three cheeses and was very happy with my choices (not that I could even remember them by the next morning. I also ordered a glass of champagne for dessert).

Service was excellent, from start to finish and the paired wines were truly thoughtful. Overall, it was a good experience - good food, good service, nice atmosphere. However, with our additional drinks and desserts, it was a pricey one. It's definitely a special occasion place, but without the formality associated with many more expensive restaurants.

Will we go back? Maybe, though not anytime soon. And it definitely won't replace Petit Louis as my favorite Wolf/Foreman restaurant - now that's a place that does an excellent job straddling the neighborhood/special occasion line (as an aside, we had dinner there last week, including perfectly tender veal sweetbreads and a ridiculously silkly golden zucchini soup).

But I digress. Cinghiale: it's good, but it hurts when the bill arrives.

[Photo credit: an old post on the Sun's Dining @ Large blog.]

Cinghiale on Urbanspoon

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