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
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
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.