Think of Little Italy and, in recent years, you might think of the considerable size of some restaurants as much as you think of the food. So successful that they've grown into room-after-room affairs, these places can stick in the mind as much for their decor as their meatballs.
Not so with Ristorante Tacchetti, a place that, in location and ambience, has little in common with the pasta palaces of High and Albamarle streets.
Ristorante Tacchetti, at 1012 Eastern Ave., is the eastern most outpost of Little Italy.
It is also more like a cafe in appearance than most restaurants thereabouts. What you see when you walk in is pretty much what you get: one long room with a bar at the front -- there is a room upstairs used when the crowd warrants.
This makes, in a way, for a more relaxed meal. In the main dining room, there are just 12 tables.
The decor is also less elaborate than in some of the best known restaurants in Little Italy. Nice, with mirrors behind the bar and the opposite wall, but neither elaborate nor heavy.
Nice, too, was the service afforded my husband and I on a recent weeknight, when the main dining room was about half full. Our waitress was pleasant, relaxed and unhurried about answering our questions, despite being the only server on duty.
Nice, too, was the food. Not overwhelming, not memorable, but in general nicely done.
We began with Mozzarella Caprese ($5) and the House Salad ($2.50).
The mozzarella was cut in thick slabs, alternated with tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil and herbs. It was deliciously simple and would have been enough for two.
The salad was, frankly, not up to the norm of Little Italy. The dressing was oily and suffered from so much pepper that any other seasoning was buried.
For main courses, I had the Swordfish Veneziana ($16); my husband, the Linguine Carbonara ($8).
The swordfish was very tender and moist, in part, perhaps, because it was sliced more thinly than the thick, unsauced steak usually served in restaurants. The swordfish, accompanied by a side dish of spaghetti topped with a good marinara sauce, made for a most satisfying entree.
The linguini also differed from the norm, in this instance in the carbonara sauce. Although my husband enjoyed it quite a bit, I'm not sure everyone would.
Usually, a carbonara dish involves pasta tossed with eggs, bacon, Parmesan and just a bit of cream -- an example of delicious simplicity. Tacchetti's carbonara sauce, however, more resembled an alfredo with bacon. Like the salad, it lacked any sense of subtlety. If you don't like cream gravy, you wouldn't like this dish.
On the side, we had an order of Spinach ($2.50). Tossed with olive oil and large chunks of garlic, it was tasty. Very tasty.
Desserts were typical of those served around the neighborhood. You know the line-up: cannoli, tortoni, rum cake, etc., etc. The cannoli that we shared for $3 was from Vaccaro's, meaning it was very good, if not the best we have had in Baltimore. None of the desserts is made on the premises.
Our bill, including two cocktails and a half-bottle of wine, was $61.45. Although its food is not outstanding, Tacchetti's does provide a pleasant counterpoint to some of Little Italy's bigger eateries -- without losing any flavor.
** 1/2 Ristorante Tacchetti
1012 Eastern Ave.
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Sunday, 2-10 p.m.
Reservations: Strongly suggested on weekends
Credit cards: Major cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Not accessible.
Smoking area: none.