Aldo's Ristorante Italiano

By Cathy Adams

     Aldo's, Little Italy's newest restaurant, was three years in the planning and took 11 months of construction. The conversion of two dilapidated rowhouses gave the Vitale family the luxury of new construction within the shells of rowhouses dating from the 1840's. The houses were so far gone that a tree was growing in the middle of the property.

     "I coughed 150 year old dust for months," said Aldo Vitale, the chef and owner. "Everything here is an expression of our philosophy," said Chef Aldo. At one time a cabinet-maker, (his father's profession) he did much of the finishing wood work for the restaurant, which was designed by Rita St. Clair.

     The bar is meant to remind one of old Baltimore, with its tin ceiling, white marble bar and mahogany, and the small dining rooms are divided by an atrium with tiles, columns and second story arches, for a classical, coolly elegant atmosphere. "We try not cramp it up. We have tables and chairs that are larger than normal, '3 hour chairs' " said Sergio Vitale, Aldo's son and the wine director. The restaurant is a family affair, with Aldo's wife, Regina and son Alessandro serving as hosts, along with Sergio. Chef Aldo immigrated from Italy when he was sixteen, along with his parents. Instead of the romantically rugged steerage accomodations, the stuff of family legends, Chef Aldo and his family came over on the luxorious liner, the Leonardo di Vinci.

     Chef Aldo's culinary philosophy is rooted in regional Italian cuisine with a Southern Italian spin on dishes. "Regional Italian cuisine uses fresh local ingredients, but they (the ingredients) are different in the North from the South and everybody steals (recipes from each other)." Chef Aldo fondly remembers summers in Italy when whole families would spend a month on the beach, living in wooden barracks with a little kitchen in the front and everyone would cook lunch. "Everyone made tomato sauce, but it all was a little different," he said.

     His approach to food is that each dish should be as simple and as fresh as possible, so the taste of each ingredient shines through. "We want to challenge our customers to what they think Italian food is; but we're not too proud to offer Italian comfort food."

     The menu changes seasonally, to take advantage of the best of each season, and currently has several dishes that features Summer Black Truffles which are slightly less aromatic than winter truffles, yet still have the heady, earthy characteristics associated with truffles. Wild mushrooms are a natural paired with truffles and Aldo's serves them with pasta sauteed in a Black Truffle Butter, an Asparagus and Wild Mushroom Frittata (a baked omelette) with Black Truffle butter and an extravagant dish of porcini agnollotti, shiitake and porcini mushrooms tossed with Black Truffle "Caviar."

     Osso Bucco, the seemingly humble dish of braised veal shanks, while normally a winter dish, has been so popular that it remains on the menu for the summer, and is served with a wild mushroom risotto. Veal, a perennial favorite of Italian restaurants is prominent on the menu and some preparations as Veal Parmigiano, Veal Medallions Francese (in lemon white wine sauce with wilted arugula) to Veal Saltimbocca (filled with fresh sage, prosciutto, mozzarella, and white wine sauce). "If you need a knife to eat the veal, it was a bad night," said Sergio.

     Pastas dishes range from the simple, such as Fettucine Margherita (with a tomato basil sauce with fresh mozzarella), Capellini Pesto (a fresh basil pine nut sauce) to the more complex Beef Tortellini (baked in a Pink Parmigiano Cream Sauce).

     Aldo's has assembled a large wine list, concentrating on wines from Italy and California. The reputation and quality of Italian wines has increased dramatically since Italy adopted stricter standards on wines, similar to the French system of classifying wines, controlling the varieties of grapes used, yield per acre, alcohol content, and aging. The wine list is easy to navigate, with tasting notes for most wines, as well as selection of ten wines available by the glass. Another advantage of the new construction has been to have a temperature and humidity controlled wine cellar, with redwood racks that can hold up to 4,500 bottles. Plans are in the works to have wine dinners for up to six people in the cellar (the cellar is kept at 58 degrees and Aldo and Sergio joked that they would have to have sweaters available).

Aldo's Orecchiette con Broccoli di Rape e Salsiccia

Orecchiette Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a pasta course

     This dish has become somewhat of a signature dish at Aldo's, no doubt due to the very successful marriage of taste and texture and the delightful interplay of the bitter broccoli rape with the sweet sausage. Broccoli Rabe is available in the produce department of most local grocery stores. Chefs often debate the use of extra virgin olive oil in recipes in which the oil is heated, but to those who appreciate its unique flavor, its presence is readily detected and the extra expense is easily justified.



Broccoli Rabe Preparation

     Steaming or blanching the broccoli rabe and shocking them in ice water is the best way to help remove some of their inherent bitterness and prepare them for the recipe. While this recipe directs you to blanch them, we recommend steaming them if you have the equipment and the time.

  1. Remove any tough outer or damaged leaves. Cut off the tough stems and discard. Tear the leaves into large pieces (about 3 to 4 inches). Wash the leaves and shake off excess water.
  2. Blanch the broccoli rabe in boiling water for about 10-12 seconds, being careful not to overcook the leaves.
  3. Immediately plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking process.

306 South High Street
Baltimore, MD

     Appetizers and Salads: $8-$11
Entrees: $16-$29

     Hours: dinner every day from 5 p.m.

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