Orto

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - LIFE & TRAVEL -

come as a shock in its bit­ter­ness, even with the ad­di­tion of feta. But Por­cile doesn’t shy away from un­usual fla­vors. Fen­nel is a re­cur­ring theme on the menu, adding an aro­matic crunch to ev­ery­thing from fish to car­rots. Peas, too, make mul­ti­ple ap­pear­ances.

On our server’s rec­om­men­da­tion we tried the pea ag­nolotti ($17). The wrap­per was light and per­fectly cooked, topped with pancetta, peas and cheese. But there’s only so much fun you can have with a pea fill­ing.

There are some deca­dent choices for those in­tent on indulging. Dur­ing a sec­ond visit, we were thank­ful our waiter rec­om­mended the ca­cio e pepe arancini ($14), rice balls fried up and topped with cilantro and pick­led peppers. They get a light dust­ing from Mal­don sea salt flakes, a lux­ury salt brand that counts Gwyneth Pal­trow among its fans. In case you need a re­minder that you are Not At Olive Gar­den Any­more.

The meal pro­ceeded at a leisurely pace, with long pauses be­tween cour­ses. It’s not the kind of place for a quick bite be­fore catch­ing a movie at the neigh­bor­ing Charles or Park­way theaters. Bet­ter, in­stead, to go af­ter the film, when you have time to linger.

For prin­ci­pale dishes, we en­joyed the branzino ($32), grilled to per­fec­tion and served with head and tail in­tact for ex­tra drama. The lamb mixed grill ($33) was served with yo­gurt sauce and peas, with some of the most fan­tas­tic pota­toes we’ve had in ages. They’re boiled with aro­mat­ics un­til creamy, smashed then deep-fried while still whole and lath­ered in salsa verde.

Din­ers un­der­stand­ably go gaga for the bone-in chicken Mi­lanese ($23), ham­mered down like schnitzel, breaded and fried. Large enough to share, it’s ac­com­pa­nied by deconstruc­ted Caesar salad and a charred lemon, which adds an acidic bal­ance. The dish is a nod to Por­cile’s Italo-Pe­ru­vian roots. Dur­ing the 1970s, Por­cile says, Pe­ru­vian butch­ers used to sell chicken with the bone in­tact to prove it was re­ally chicken.

Por­cile, then, serves his chicken Mi­lanese with the bone — though it takes much longer to pre­pare.

“Cooks and chefs are weird peo­ple,” he said. “We do things a cer­tain way be­cause we feel it’s the way it ought to be done.”

One mi­nor quib­ble: We’ve been hop­ing to try the blood orange tart for months, af­ter hear­ing rave re­views from a co­worker. But the dish got the ax dur­ing a re­cent menu re­vi­sion and Por­cile says there are no plans to bring it back.

So we set­tled for the chocolate semifreddo and olive oil gelato. The lat­ter, al­ready pop­u­lar in Italy, was a rev­e­la­tion. The fat­ti­ness and fla­vor of the olive per­fectly aug­ments the creamy gelato.

Dur­ing a re­cent visit, a woman sit­ting next to us de­voured her

Orto

Rat­ing: Where:

Con­tact:

Open: Prices:

Food: Noise/TVs:

Ser­vice:

Park­ing: Spe­cial di­ets: Reser­va­tion pol­icy: Hand­i­cap ac­ces­si­ble: [Key: dessert of marscar­pone panna cotta, topped with a lux­u­ri­ous layer of tangy rhubarbs and fresh pis­ta­chios.

It’s “not too sweet,” she told her server. “So you don’t feel too guilty.”

“You should feel guilty,” the server re­sponded.

Orto bar­tender Joseph Weeks makes a cock­tail.

Ca­cio E Pepe Arancini is made with tomato emul­sion and sweet baby peppers at Orto, an Ital­ian restau­rant at 1709 N. Charles Street. 1709 N. Charles St., Sta­tion North 443-759-7200, or­to­bal­ti­more.com Nightly, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Ap­pe­tiz­ers $12-$17; En­trees $24-$33 Elevated Ital­ian cui­sine No tele­vi­sions; con­ver­sa­tion is easy. Wel­com­ing and knowl­edge­able Street Can be ac­com­mo­dated. Ac­cepts

BAR­BARA HAD­DOCK TAY­LOR/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHO­TOS

Bone-in chicken Mi­lanese is served with charred lemon and a deconstruc­ted Caesar salad.

The Cop­petta, a cock­tail made with Green­hat gin, egg whites and blood orange juice, is gar­nished with An­gos­tura bit­ters.

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