Friday, August 08, 2014

Cafe Gia

I hadn't heard of Cafe Gia until we started working on our book, Baltimore Chef's Table. After studying their web site, however, I knew I wanted to go there badly. Ornately painted both inside and out, Cafe Gia looks like a romanticized rendering of an Italian cafe. It's bright, colorful, warm, and inviting. The food also provides the warm, comforting feeling that one desires from Italian cooking.

On our recent visit, I started with a glass of Gia's Sangria, heavy on the wine but cool and refreshing. Since the Minx has been avoiding alcohol, the bartender recommended San Pellegrino grapefruit soda, which she seemed quite pleased with.

We decided to split a pair of appetizers. Our first appetizer was the orchard salad. The sweetness of the fruit paired well with the slightly bitter and peppery greens. The dressing was perfectly balanced, and the toasted walnuts added a new dimension of crunch and savoriness.

We were both eager to try the octopus, and we were not disappointed. Most octopus I've had is either like rubber bands when it's bad or mostly tender when it's good. It appeared that this octopus was grilled after braising, judging by the crispy suction cups. The result was a slightly chewy outside with soft and tender meat inside. This combination of textures worked quite well and reminded me of the texture of some shaped pastas when they are cooked properly.

Speaking of pasta, for my entree, I chose the fettuccine bolognese. The bolognese had a deep, beefy flavor that indicated long hours of slow cooking. Some restaurants cheat by adding heavy cream, but Cafe Gia offers an honest version that allows the beef to take center stage. The fettuccine was perfectly al dente.

The Minx chose the made-to-order eggplant parmigiana with a side of linguine. The marinara sauce was bright with fresh tomato flavor. The thinly sliced eggplant was layered and smothered with mozzarella cheese before baking, and the meaty texture could fool someone into thinking that this wasn't a vegetarian dish. It also had no trace of the bitter quality that turns me off to eggplant.

In addition to the festive decor and the delicious food, owner Gia Blatterman and the staff create a friendly and welcoming feeling as if you are visiting a friend's home for dinner. There's also al fresco dining on the second floor balcony during the warmer months, allowing patrons to enjoy chef Gianfranco Fracassetti's inventive cuisine while taking in the quaint views of Little Italy.

Cafe Gia on Urbanspoon
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