In a warm family home in Calabria, Italy, young Aldo Vitale grew up amidst artisans and apprenticed in his father’s woodworking shop. Though he developed a craftsman’s skills, he was more deeply influenced by the family’s kitchen, which, true to Italian tradition, was the axis on which the entire house revolved. Upon emigrating to the US in 1961, Vitale enlisted in the army only to end up bounced right back to Italy, this time stationed around Florence and Siena in Tuscany. Heeding his homeland’s obvious role in his destiny, he honed his culinary skills there before returning to Baltimore, where he refined his style in local kitchens before opening Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano.
With a Tuscan wine cellar, crimson-hued library, and airy main dining area tucked inside the shell of two converted brownstones, Aldo’s opulent decor has since earned effusive press acclaim. The New York Times tells patrons they can “expect to be treated like royalty” in the “oh-so-grand atrium dining room,” and [USA Today](http://gr.pn/JXMrtK) recommends it for “special occasions, when you want to dress up.” The restaurant’s splendor also bears a personal touch—drawing from his woodworking ancestry, chef Vitale himself carved each piece of elaborate woodwork on display, including the mahogany bar.
Chef Vitale’s background also emerges in his balanced Southern Italian cuisine, which prioritizes subtle harmonies of bold, simple flavors. Local and organic ingredients shine on a menu that evolves regularly to incorporate seasonal truffles and myriad housemade products, helping Aldo’s earn spots on Baltimore magazine’s 2010 and 2012 Best Restaurants lists. Cold antipasto plates draw from a climate-controlled artisanal cheese cave on the premises, and housemade sausage pairs with fresh orecchiette pasta and parmigiano reggiano. For meaty main courses, chefs grill double-cut Prime Wisconsin veal chops as well as prime filet mignon, which they pair with seared foie gras and wild mushrooms.
To ensure an apt pairing with each dish, Chef Vitale stocks his redwood wine cellars with thousands of bottles carefully curated from a blend of prominent wineries and obscure small-batch producers. The resulting wine list comes annotated with tasting notes, Wine Spectator-numerical ratings, and helpful servers that happily recommend or improvise musical numbers about any given bottle.
Germano Fabiani fills the menu at his eponymous trattoria with recipes from his native Tuscany, a region known for its extra-virgin olive oil and chianti wine. Artfully weathered teal and orange paint evoke the colors of its landscapes in the spacious dining room, where housemade pastas twirl around fork tines in tomato, besciamella, and parmesan-gorgonzola sauces. Germano's pasta-making demonstrations, infused with cultural context and history, draw school field trips as well as parties to the Little Italy location. The restaurant also hosts cabaret dinners in an onsite performance space, where a special menu keeps diners' mouths too full to sing along.
Though Yummy Grille chefs work alongside the pizza-makers of A1 Pizza & Sub, their cuisine is from a different world entirely. Instead of New York-style pizza and American favorites, chefs whip up dishes from the Mediterranean— from flavorful steak shawarmas to crunchy falafel wraps and sizzling chicken kabobs. They take a healthy approach to cooking, grilling meats in lemon juice and vegetable oil rather than deep-frying them or stuffing them with M&Ms. They pair their sandwiches and platters with traditional Mediterranean side-dishes, including savory hummus dip and plump grape leaves filled with rice.
Customization is the word at Dominick's Pizza, where guests can tailor hand-tossed pizzas and overstuffed subs to their liking. Thick, Sicilian-style crusts form serving platters for a choice of 20 toppings, including italian sausage, capicola ham, and sweet peppers. Jumbo wings come in more than a dozen flavors, including Cajun and barbecue. Bolstered by nearly 50 years of history, the pizzeria also specializes in pastas as traditional as an Italian matron’s weekly spaghetti-weaving parties.
Chef Rocco Gargano grew up in Matera, Italy. The son of a farmer, Rocco developed a deep appreciation for fresh, sun-kissed ingredients at an early age. Both father and son relocated to the United States in 1962, and Rocco longed to use his skills in a fine-dining setting.
Now, inside Rocco's Capriccio in Little Italy, Rocco and his kitchen staff filet fresh fish for specialties such as the grouper livornese with a sauce made from freshly chopped tomatoes, capers, and olives. They thinly slice prosciutto and melt shredded fontina cheese into a cream sauce before spreading both across cuts of filet mignon or models in public-service announcements about food fights. The chirping sound of ice against glass drifts from the bar, where mixologists blend dessert-appropriate martinis made with limoncello and Godiva chocolate liqueur, along with coffee drinks enriched by rum, Baileys, amaretto, and whipped cream. An exhaustively researched and described wine list draws heavily on sangiovese, canaiolo, and trebbiano grapes—Italian fruit much like the crops Rocco tended as a child.
Nestled in Little Italy, Ciao Bella presents a menu of Northern and Southern Italian cuisine crafted by Chef Tony Gambino. Along with his family, Chef Tony serves up edible treasures such as gnocchi alla vodka, which features housemade potato dumplings simmered in vodka cream sauce with garlic and basil. His meaty eats include a succulent center-cut pork chop, which he grills and finishes with a madeira-wine sauce, as well as traditional Italian dishes such as chicken parmigiana and veal saltimbocca with prosciutto and imported provolone cheese. Rather than leaving the restaurant in the hands of robots that run on spaghetti, Tony takes a very hands-on approach, which is why he created the wine list himself. With more than 40 labels, the list dazzles palates with bottles of reds and whites from all across Italy, as well as New World wines from regions such as Napa and Sonoma Valley.
Inside Ciao Bella, white tablecloths drape over tables in a dining room ideal for special nights out or intimate dinners. Private rooms also accommodate parties of varying sizes and have even hosted celebrities such as Steven Van Zandt and Max Weinberg.