One of Little Italy's stars shines brighter with new Tuscan meal

March 06, 1992|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

Since it opened, Germano's Trattoria Petrucci has consistently been one of Little Italy's best restaurants -- a cozy little spot with attentive waiters where you can get imaginative food as well as the usual spaghetti bolognese and shrimp in marinara sauce. Now owner Germano Fabiani is offering something special: a six-course dinner that will introduce

Baltimoreans to some of the classic dishes from his native Tuscany. Whether enough people are going to be willing to give up their shrimp in marinara sauce to make it worthwhile to continue the special dinners is another question. But what a bargain -- $14.95 for the six courses, and the only restriction is that you call in advance to make reservations.

The Tuscan dinner is fun because the only choice you have to make is what Chianti to order. Then you sit back and wait for your first course. Try to resist the slender, made-on-the-premises bread sticks and Tuscan bread. But if you can't . . . the bread is almost saltless (which is traditional) and goes wonderfully with wine. There's also rosemary-scented focaccia,Italian flat bread, in the basket.

The reason I urge you to resist the good bread is that the first course is bruschette, three small rectangles of bread brushed generously with olive oil, grilled, and topped three different ways -- one slice with chopped garlic, one with fresh tomatoes and basil, and one with a scattering of white beans. Next, is a lively, piping-hot tomato-based vegetable soup (pappa al pomodoro), appealingly presented in a bread "bowl" that has the texture of a very crisp pizza crust.

Then comes a classic Tuscan pasta, homemade taglierini -- something like a delicate fettuccine -- with a masterful ground veal sauce that gets better with every bite. I regretfully left half of it to save room for the next three courses, but I almost wish I hadn't. It was the best part of the meal.

That's not to say what follows isn't good. It is -- except for the salad, which lacks the pizzazz of the rest of dinner. The ingredients are ordinary, and the dressing sweet and too full of chopped egg for my taste.

Mr. Fabiani plans to change the main course of his Tuscan dinner sometime soon, but currently it's spiedino toscano, a small, mixed-grill of meats marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. (Tuscany is located in the middle of Italy, so seafood isn't a particular specialty. But some will be included when the menu changes.) The grill now consists of a tiny, tender lamb chop, a piece of crisp-skinned duck, half a highly spiced sausage and vegetables. The promised chicken failed to make an appearance, but at this point we didn't miss it. With the grill comes fried polenta, wonderfully moist inside and crusty.

Dinner ends with a delicate tiramisu -- the spongecake, mascarpone cheese and whipped cream concoction as lusciously caloric as it is deceptively light. Tiramisu's origins are hazy, even though Germano's has claimed it for Tuscany. But who am I to argue with a dessert this good?

Germano's Trattoria Petrucci

Where: 300 S. High St.

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.

Credit cards: Major credit cards.

Features: Italian cuisine

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (410) 752-4515.

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