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Best Restaurants 2010 Baltimore Magazine
“Aldo’s is one of those old-school Little Italy spots with linen-covered tables, impeccable service, and formal décor (complete with stately columns). The mood is dignified and hushed as you contemplate the menu. We’re crazy about the whole-wheat flatbread topped with broccoli rabe, mild Italian sausage, and Parmigiano Reggiano. In fact, we’d be happy to make a meal of it. But there’s plenty of other richly flavorful regional Italian cuisine offered. Aldo’s butter-poached lobster risotto, deglazed with Highland Scotch, is intoxicating. The salad of sweet red beets, mixed greens, crumbled Gorgonzola, and toasted walnuts with Champagne vinaigrette is innovative and satisfying. The hearty double-cut prime Wisconsin veal chop comes with a wild mushroom polenta galetti, and the zuppa di pesce alla Calabrese has plenty of ocean charm. The tiramisu stands as an espresso-soaked classic.”
“If the architecture… isn’t enough to make you feel transported overseas, the food will clinch it. Whatever you order at Aldo’s, it’s bound to be the best Italian you’ve ever tasted, even if you recently toured Italy.” -The Sunday Paper, Atlanta, GA
“An Italian Masterpiece” – New York Times
“Thank you, Chef Aldo, for opening a world-class restaurant in Baltimore” – From Baltimore Magazine, August 2001
Following is just a sample of the praise heaped upon Aldo’s:
“I’ve never thought Aldo’s gets the attention it deserves. Some of that has to do with the firm opinions Baltimoreans form about restaurants they’ve never been to, especially when those restaurants happen to be in Little Italy.
Aldo’s is not just a pretty good restaurant, all things considered. It’s a great one, everything considered.
Aldo’s was never a stuffy temple of fine dining, its formally dressed waiters and opulent setting notwithstanding. People have always enjoyed themselves at Aldo’s. Wine flows, and so does laughter. As with most great restaurants, Aldo’s never asks you to love it or admire it. Aldo’s just wants you to have a wonderful dinner.
If it’s been a while since you’ve been, you should know that the menu has been redesigned and somewhat streamlined. Pastas now have a more prominent place, and it’s easier these days to make a pasta dish into a main course. The pastas, though, are still available in half-portions, so you could have them as an intermediate course, after the appetizers and before the entrees. (Most of the pastas are also available in tasting portions — $15 for a pasta duo, or $23 for a pasta trio.)
Either way, do not leave without trying a pasta dish. Try the orecchiette, an Aldo’s classic, a savory dish of fresh pasta, broccoli rabe, homemade Italian sausage and Parmigiano-Reggiano. It’s the kind of deceptively simple thing you could see yourself making — every night of your life — and never get quite right.
We go to good restaurants for things like this, and for the linguine with clams, which is an example of a right way of doing things — the clams are fresh but pulled from their shells and tossed with olive oil and seasoning. And especially we go for a new thing, like the just-introduced ravioli Piedmontese, firm pillows stuffed with rosemary coppa and tossed with Parmesan and tossed with pea tendrils, smoked speck and a puree of English peas. This was a startling little dish, with strong and surprising flavors.
There are moments at Aldo’s when you think, oh, thank you. A fresh and aromatic minestrone is filled with squash and diced potatoes and herbs from ownerAldo Vitale’s own garden. An eggplant Parmigiana tower is constructed from crispy slices of flash-fried eggplant, a zesty tomato sauce and the right amount of mozzarella cheese. Everything is marvelous in an appetizer of brown-sugar glazed pork belly, whose sweetness is set off with Swiss chard, a tomato jam and, best of all, a cannellini bean puree.
That pork belly is about as complicated as Aldo’s food gets, at least on the surface. The main courses especially are as clear as day. When we visited, the kitchen was offering a branzino, the European seabass, stuffing it with rosemary and oregano, coating it with lemon, garlic and olive oil and grilling it whole. It arrived moist, flaky and delicious. Aldo’s treats an old standard like veal tenderloin Francese with respect, battering it lightly, frying it cleanly and serving it with pretty wilted spinach and a terrific lemon-Chardonnay sauce.
Over the years, something of a cult has formed around Aldo’s Tournedos Rossini, a grilled prime filet mignon, seared foie gras and a risotto of black truffles and porcini mushroom sauce. It’s a wonder. But consider the double-cut Wisconsin veal chop, prepared Milanese style — butterflied, pounded, breaded and pan-fried golden brown and served with fresh arugula and chopped garden tomatoes. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing, this veal chop, and it tastes like your ship has come in.
Do you, after all of this, have to get dessert? Yes, you have to. The napoleon looks so daunting and big, but hidden in the layers of Bavarian cream are dark and sour Amarena cherries. Likewise, the bracing effect of berries spiked with grappa undercuts the richness of buttermilk panna cotta. When we visited, Aldo’s was just trying out a new dessert — cornetti, an Italian version of croissants, flavored with Nutella and ready for dunking in an affogato, a gelato served in a broth of espresso and Sambuca.
The Vitale family are good hosts. It always helps when a clientele is largely self-selecting. You’re in good company here. Aldo’s isn’t a good fit for the dull of soul. Yes, it’s expensive, but diners who appreciate and recognize high-quality food will never regret a penny, or a minute, spent here.” – BaltimoreSun.com
“Aldo’s is a great restaurant…it attracts a steady clientele of traveling gourmet diners who have heard others sing its praises. I like it enormously. I appreciate the obvious care taken with assembling choice ingredients, much of which are organic and locally purveyed, and the flawless preparations. And while I admire the plush feel of Aldo’s variously splendid dining rooms—all of which were hand-built by Aldo Vitale, a carpenter in his native Calabria before coming to America and finding his calling as a chef—I most often dine at the dark front bar, where the company is good, typically other diners as satisfied with themselves as I am to have found such a special place.
This year, I kept a promise to myself and went with a friend to Aldo’s on Christmas Eve to be a part of the restaurant’s La Vigilia celebration. Observed by Catholic communities around the world but most famously in Italy, this tradition, which is marked by a massive seafood feast, has come to be better known in America as “the feast of the seven fishes.” Aldo’s restaurant version of La Vigilia is but a vestigial reminder of an annual ritual that would consume months of planning (acquiring, salting, and storing), days of preparation, and many, many hours of consumption. Accounts and memories of the feast and its attendant traditions varies widely in Italy from north to south region, wealthy landlocked village to impoverished seaport town, and even from family to family, with little posturing about which tradition is real or correct. The one common element is the emphasis on seafood on a day when red meat is proscribed from the table.
What I found so appealing about Aldo’s version is how it so nimbly negotiates the terrain between respectfulness for old-world tradition and mindfulness of contemporary diners’ expectations. A $65 tasting menu comprised four courses, with the main entrée a choice between a homey salted cod dish and the brazenly sumptuous branzino, or Mediterranean sea bass, a fish unlikely to be found on a peasant family’s table, even for the most lavish meal of the year.
My dining companion, the son of an Italian woman who passed away between last Christmas and this one, was reassured by seeing salted cod, or baccala, on the menu—it signified authenticity to him—but chose the branzino instead, leaving baccala alla Calabrese to me. Even within this one dish, Vitale managed to satisfy competing expectations. Hunks of cod with potatoes and strong little Calabrese olives were cooked in a gently balanced tomato bouillon. While the dish looked appropriately modest, its taste was elegant. There’s nothing reticent about the branzino that was served ripieno, supplemented—stuffed—with jumbo lump crab imperial, accompanied by lobster-saffron mashed potatoes. This dish was just all-out lavishness and lusciousness, pillowy textures and buttery tastes.
The tasting menu began with an antipasto of seared scallops with citrus beurre blanc and a fritto misto, or “mixed fry” of calamari, salted cod, smelts, and petite Gulf shrimp. Here again was a pleasing mix of plain and fancy. Just enough breading on the delicate fishes to provide snap and flavor, a massive scallop handled precisely, its own juices preserved perfectly inside.
Diners chose between a cold seafood salad and crab-and-shrimp chowder for the second course. The first simply mixed chilled, marinated Gulf shrimp, calamari, octopus, and sea scallops with arugula and mista field greens in a sprightly citrus vinaigrette, a good choice for its palate refreshment. The chowder, on the other hand, lavished the tongue with its generosity of silky crabmeat, sweet corn, and rich sherry flavor. The final course was a holiday dessert trio—a gorgeous panettone bread pudding, homemade tiramisu, and assorted biscotti and chocolate “ornaments.” Among these last were little balls of Belgian chocolate coated in corn flakes, the perfect emblem for a chef and a meal whose guiding thought was to please and delight.
There was a celebrity dining at Aldo’s on this Christmas Eve, a world-famous fashion designer, herself from Calabria, whose opulent lifestyle and appreciation of excess has been merrily lampooned on Saturday Night Live. We were happy that Donatella Versace had found Aldo’s, imagining that she felt both comforted by the cod and delighted by the decadence of crab imperial over sea bass, the crunch of a corn flake over chocolate.” – Citypaper.com
The place for romance — Aldo’s, an architecturally stunning restaurant in Little Italy, is the spot to tryst, propose or celebrate with your sweetie. The romantic interior has an atrium in its marble courtyard and wait staff in tuxedos. Aldo’s, which only serves dinner, features eclectic Italian cuisine such as creamy fettucine Maine lobster Bolognese, and Tournedos Rossini with foie gras, black truffles and porcini. Ask for a tour of the subterranean cheese cave. Aldo’s is expensive but worth every penny. Reservations are a must on the weekends. -USA Today
“A Cathedral to Southern Italian Cuisine” SPIRIT Magazine, Southwest Airlines, 2004 “Aldo’s Tournedos Rossini. The menu description: “Grilled prime filet mignon, seared Hudson Valley foie gras, Italian black truffle, porcini, and wild mushroom sauce, with four-cheese risotto.” The result: exactly what you’d expect from Chef Aldo Vitale–an original and accomplished take on a classic dish, using the best and freshest ingredients available. Every bite is like an epicurean argument for the triumph of momentary pleasure and the importance of accepting into your life, at least occasionally, something that is the best.” from THE BALTIMORE CITYPAPER’s TOP TEN (THE YEAR IN FOOD – 2003)
Dear Mr. Vitale:
Congratulations! Your restaurant has been nominated for the North American Restaurant Association’s highest award, the FIVE STAR AWARD OF EXCELLENCE. Within the past three months, Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano was anonymously visited by a NARA trained inspector. Our inspector reported that the food and wine were absolutely superb, and the service, impeccable. From making the reservation to paying the check, it was a perfect dining experience.
The NARA FIVE STAR AWARD OF EXCELLENCE places you in a different category than other fine restaurants. Whether potential customers are looking for an intimate dining experience, a restaurant for corporate functions or other special events, the NARA rating will assure them of nothing less than the finest beef, the freshest seafood, and the best-cellared wines.
-North American Restaurant Association
“Best Italian Restaurant -Pretty much extraordinary, and, before we get all crazy talking about the food, we want you to know that the place is drop-dead gorgeous, with room upon room, in what had been adjoining Little Italy rowhouses, gleaming with the handcrafted woodwork and cabinetry of chef/owner Aldo Vitale. Their overwhelming effect is to make you both want to fall in love with someone you can take there and to curse the days you dozed off in wood shop. It’s so nice, too, to see the obvious pride the superb and opposite-of-haughty staff takes in the restaurant. As for the food, it’s solid, man. Crafted by Vitale from local, organic, and seasonal ingredients (we know, but this time it’s true), all of which are allowed to speak for themselves. True, sometimes the ingredients are not so local: buffalo mozzarella is flown in twice a week from Campania in Southern Italy for a perfect caprese, and Hudson Valley foie gras elevates Aldo’s tournedos Rossini (which you wouldn’t think could be improved on much) to something approaching restaurant heaven. Look, we actually do like the warm and homey pasta houses in Little Italy. Aldo’s is painting with a different palate, though, and you need to go see what’s happening behind the columns on High Street.” – CityPaper 2003
“Though there’s plenty of space in this elegantly remodeled Little Italy rowhouse, each separate room feels intimate. Servers are wonderfully knowledgeable…That wine list is excellent (try anything from Calabria). Also try an appetizer of capellini galleto, a crispy fried round of thin pasta covered with stunning truffle-mushroom sauce, or a delicious salad of baby spinach, walnuts, and gorgonzola drizzled with vino cotto (red wine reduced to a syrup consistency). Aldo’s has a practiced hand at bowl-you-over entrées, particularly red meat. Properly aged, meltingly tender filet mignon and a huge, succulent double-cut Wisconsin veal chop will make you question the necessity of going to a steakhouse. For dessert? Although the tiramisu fad is passé, try Aldo’s version anyway; it’s terrific. Ditto the panna cotta.” – Baltimore Magazine, Best Restaurants 2003
“Hooray for chef/owner Aldo Vitale. A proponent of locally grown produce and seasonal ingredients, he’s raised the bar for Italian cuisine in Baltimore with a roster of regional Italian favorites whose secret to success is the high quality of their components. This means that the vine-ripened tomatoes in a simple fresh mozzarella salad will, indeed, be ripe and sweet, elevating the dish to perfection. Similarly, a rustic ossobuco grabs you with the earthiness of its accompanying risotto; those porcinis and wild mushrooms thrill with their intensity. Over-the-top creations like lobster-saffron mashed potatoes and a grilled filet mignon with seared foie gras perfectly match the fabulous wine list and big-night-out surroundings, but the essential excellence of the ingredients is what makes this venue the best Little Italy has to offer.” – Baltimore Magazine, 2002
“The private dining room at Aldo’s, 306 S. High Street, 410-727-0700, has the air of an Italian wine cave, with vaulted ceilings painted to look like aged stucco and a simple but handsome wood table handmade by former carpenter-turned-chef Aldo Vitale himself. Aldo’s couples those cozy climes with superb service and refined Italian cooking. The result is memorable.” – Baltimore Magazine, August 2001
“Baltimore’s Best Restaurant” Baltimore’s Most Romantic Restaurant” – CitySearch.com
Voted “One of the Top 5 Hottest Restaurants in Baltimore” – Nation’s Restaurant News Magazine
One of “The World’s Best Restaurants for Wine Lovers”, “Award of Excellence 2000”, “Award of Excellence 2001” – Wine Spectator Magazine
“Aldo’s covers all the details crucial to a top-class Italian restaurant. The olive oil on your table is bright green, the bread is fresh and substantial. The decor is elegantly spare, with small arches between the intimate dining rooms. The wine list is suitably grand, and your server is well-equipped to point out the highlights. Water glasses are always full; nobody calls you “you guys.” And, most importantly, the food is excellent. A foie gras appetizer provides meltingly rich texture, nicely set off by a tart cherry sauce. Savory white-bean bruschetta and the housemade soppresatta are fine examples of peasant food turned into high expressions of Italian cuisine. The marinated, grilled lamb chops are delectable and perfectly cooked, as are the agnolotti, plump pasta pillows filled and generously topped with wild mushrooms. Super desserts like the creamy pannacotta with a crunchy sugar crust complete the portrait. Of course, such perfection doesn’t come cheap, but at Aldo’s you get what you pay for.” – Baltimore Magazine, 2001
“ONE OF THE TOP FIVE TASTES OF 1999!” “This polished, romantic space is Aldo Vitale’s latest gift to the neighborhood…A refined taste of old Italy in Little Italy” – Southern Living Magazine, December 1999
“The most sophisticated restaurant in Little Italy” – Southern Living Magazine, March 2000
“One of the Nation’s Best Restaurants” – The Food Network, “Best Of…” Holiday Special 1999
Aldo’s is a true compliment to Baltimore’s Little Italy. Superb food served with expertise and personality in elegant surroundings captures the dining experience.” – AAA Mid-Atlantic Tour Book 2000, Three Diamond Rating
“One of the Top 12 Upscale Restaurants in the Region” “Chef Aldo Vitale is setting a new pace for Little Italy” – Baltimore Magazine, February 2000
“Terrific…stunningly attractive…the veal saltimbocca made one’s taste buds want to burst into song” – Editor’s Choice, Where Baltimore
“The prettiest restaurant in Little Italy” – Elizabeth Large, The Baltimore Sun
“The beautiful surroundings, wonderful service, fresh and flavorful food, and an ever-growing collection of wines from around the world, make Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano Baltimore’s Premier Italian Restaurant. You owe it to yourself to experience its authentic Italian cuisine.” – Jubilee Magazine, October 1999
“As someone who has quite literally searched the world over for the best desserts, I appreciated your last issue’s focus (“How Sweet It Is,” July 2001). However, I was disappointed to notice that you forgot about my absolute favorite dessert, tiramisu. I have eaten at nearly every Italian restaurant in Little Italy and a number of them throughout the state in search of a good version of this old classic. Hands down, the best tiramisu in the state (the world?) is found at Aldo’s. Thank you, Chef Aldo, for opening a world-class restaurant in Baltimore and thank you for your distinctly decadent tiramisu.” Irian Rodriguez, Baltimore – “Letters to the Editor” Baltimore Magazine, August 2001