Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pane e Vino

Among the tastiest restaurants in Baltimore's Little Italy is Cafe Gia. Owned by Gia Fracassetti with husband Gianfranco in the kitchen, they produce fresh and flavorful Italian cuisine. We highly recommend the place, but if you're more in the mood for a drink and something more akin to small plates, pop next door to Pane e Vino.

Pane e Vino, or bread and wine, is owned by Gia's brother, Steven, but it's still very much a Fracassetti collaboration; Gian created the bar's menu, and Gia helped with the interior design. The space itself is quite small and very intimate, and feels like a really chic private club.

Mr Minx and I recently attended a media tasting for an introduction to the bar's cocktails and several types of snacks.

Mini burrata, fava, prosciutto, and tomato salad.
With our first cocktail, the Spicy Sicilian (pepper vodka, limoncello, kumquat syrup, lemon), we were brought dishes of Pane e Vino's burrata with tomatoes, fava beans, and prosciutto, and calamari cooked en sous vide with broccoli rabe and tomatoes in a savory broth, with toasted bread on the side. Both were delicious. I'm a big fan of creamy, rich, burrata cheese, and thought the small ball was the perfect size for one (or two, if I am feeling generous but probably not).

Sous vide calamari, rapini, tomatoes
The calamari was silky and tender and the bitter rapini was a nice accent. I was rather annoyed, however, that I had to share this lovely dish with two other people and didn't have it and a plate of toast all to myself.

Porcini, prosciutto, and gorgonzola flatbread
We then sampled a flatbread. Not particularly flat, the focaccia-based treat was generously portioned and definitely enough for two or three. The salty combination of gorgonzola and prosciutto worked very well as an accompaniment to an alcoholic beverage or two, like the Charm City Girl (MD's own Sloop Betty vodka, fresh grapefruit, ginger syrup, club soda), Redheads Have More Fun (tequila, blood orange, ginger beer, lime), or a Smooth Country Ride (cognac, anisette, lemon, rhubarb black pepper syrup).

Chicken drumsticks, homemade spicy harissa, bleu cheese and celery
Rather than the usual chicken wings, Pane e Vino serves chicken drumsticks, cooked until delightfully moist and juicy, and generously sauced with a fiery harissa. Those of us who favor heat enjoyed the spicy and flavorful legs on their own, but the faint of heart will appreciate the cooling nature of the accompanying celery sticks and bleu cheese dressing.

Giant buffalo/ricotta meatball with rustic garlic toast
What we tried so far was really quite nice, but my favorite dishes were yet to come. The giant meatball of lean bison made moist and super tender by ricotta cheese reminded me of the amazing meatballs made by my late Aunt Stasia. So good! And while the garlic toast sopped up the sauce perfectly, Mr Minx was not so secretly hankering for a big pile of spaghetti, instead.

Piadina with grilled steak, Stracchino, arugula, harissa, pickled onions.
The piadine, stuffed with steak and a type of creamy young cow's-milk cheese called Stracchino resembled quesadillas. A piadina, or piada, is a thin rustic flatbread, reminiscent of pita, roti, or lavash, which is served rolled or stuffed with cheese and other ingredients. I loved the bite of the harissa with the steak, cooled down by the creamy cheese.

Nutella bread pudding, banana ice cream
Finally, we had dessert--a simple but decadent Nutella bread pudding. Not just Nutella-flavored, there was also a ribbon of the gooey chocolate hazelnut spread inside. The banana ice cream was good, but not really even necessary. More bread pudding, please.

More of everything, actually. It was all really delicious, from cocktails to sweets. We look forward to going back and sampling more of both food and beverage. And maybe another of those terrific meatballs (or two).

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