Monday, October 08, 2007

Sotto Sopra

Hubby and I celebrated our seventh anniversary with a trip to Sotto Sopra. We had eaten there once during Restaurant Week a couple of years ago, and had always wanted to go back. We picked a good time to return - they just got a new chef who definitely has a way with food.

Everything on the regular menu sounded good, but we were especially intrigued by two dishes from the specials menu: a lobster-stuffed portabella appetizer, and a lobster risotto entree. I chose the latter, and started with the frittura di calamaretti; DH took the former, followed by Ravioli d'Anantra.

The stuffed mushroom could have been a real disaster--I imagined a heavy imperial sauce over tough lobster in a limp mushroom cap, a version that I might have encountered in my youth at someplace like Smitty's or Haussner's. But after an effusively elaborate description of the dish by a waiter, I had high hopes. And they were, I am happy to say, certainly met. The dish was a triumph of flavor. A large portabella cap had been laid on a bed of basil chiffonade and topped with a mixture of chopped tomato, onion, artichoke and lobster knuckle meat in a light basil sauce, and garnished with two whole lobster claw meats and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. The lobster was absolutely perfectly cooked; it was tender and juicy and had the lovely light springy quality that the claw should have. It was also imbued with a light herbal flavor. My husband said the dish was too good *not* to share (especially with his wife on our anniversary) and fed me forkfuls of tender mushroom, shreds of basil, and luscious lobster. As the sauce did not become gummy as the dish cooled (it was not the most heat-retaining of ingredient combinations) I thought it must be mayonnaise-based. Even at room temperature, the resulting lobster salad was delicious and would have been just as welcome served cold on a bed of baby greens as warm on a mushroom cap.

I really can't go on enough about how much I enjoyed this dish. Seriously. And...it was only $12. In New York, it would easily have been an $18 appetizer.

My fried calamari was just ok in comparison. The rings were a bit thicker than I'd like, and their coating didn't seem to be seasoned much at all. The accompanying wasabi sour cream and warm tomato sauce were nice, but not quite perfect. I think the sour cream could have benefitted from a bit of thinning. I did like very much, however, the scant few salty morsels of fried zucchini that were buried under the squid.

I had originally wanted the mint pappardelle with lamb ragu, but was told the restaurant did not have the lamb that night and were taking the item off the menu. I then decided to splurge and ordered the other lobster special, described to me as a lobster tail stuffed with roasted cherry tomatoes resting on a bed of lobster risotto studded with crawfish and sauced with lobster bisque. Again, the lobster was perfectly cooked, with a light herbal flavor. The risotto was perfect, creamy and unctuous, with the proper faintly crunchy-centered rice and tasty nuggets of crawfish. The bisque sauce was light and perhaps a bit underseasoned, but full of lobster stock flavor; was nice to see that they had utilized every part of the crustacean between the two lobster dishes.

Mr. Minx's house-made ravioli were stuffed with shredded duck meat and bathed in a strongly meaty brown veal sauce with an unmistakable truffle savor. Despite the deep flavors of the sauce, it was still obvious that the contents of the pasta pillows was indeed duck. All the dish needed was a garnish of duck confit. Heh. Yum. The sauce would have been magnificent on a juicy steak, and despite it's long-simmered bone-rich quality, it did not make our lips stick together (yes, I'm talking to you, Cindy Wolf).

To gild the lily, we had dessert. Mr. Minx's Nutella- and strawberry-stuffed crespelle (crepe) was decadent. My selection of house-made gelato in lavender, pistachio, and tiramisu was some of the best gelato I've had in this town. The lavender, recommended by our server, was a delicate surprised that DH and I both enjoyed.

All of the above was washed down with a singularly unexceptional bottle of white burgundy and lots of ice water (why is it still so hot in October?).

Sotto Sopra is a restaurant we should visit far more often. The decor is charming, the waitstaff is even more so, and the food can be exceptional.

Sotto Sopra
405 N Charles St
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 625-0534

Sotto Sopra on Urbanspoon

Sotto Sopra
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