Third time lucky for That's Amore

January 18, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Baltimore has plenty of southern Italian restaurants, but none quite like the new That's Amore next to the Shops at Kenilworth. Dinners at this sleek, upscale chain are served family style, which means that dishes feed two or more (and are priced accordingly).

This is the spot where Pat & Mike's used to be, and before it, the Rusty Scupper. It's a handsome, multi-level space, converted rTC into a stucco-walled, tile-floored trattoria with Frank Sinatra on the sound system. It mystifies me why neither of its predecessors succeeded -- it seems like a great location. But maybe That's Amore has figured out the winning formula. The night we were there it was packed.

The big question isn't whether Towsonites will love the food, but whether they'll love the family dining concept. If your family is like my family, no two people can agree on one dish, let alone all of us. You could argue that at home everybody eats the same food. Still, if I wanted to eat at home, I'd eat at home.

But, of course, if the concept didn't work, That's Amore wouldn't be opening its third restaurant in the chain. (The first two are in Rockville and Vienna, Va.)

Dinner at That's Amore starts off with a bit of time-consuming and not very interesting theater. Our waitress explained that she was going to make "Italian butter" for us and proceeded to mix olive oil, grated parmesan, salt and pepper on an oval plate. This was the dip for the Italian bread and focaccia.

You get one menu per table, so ordering obviously has to be a friendly and communal affair. (There is a large menu on the wall.) Four of us split one appetizer, one salad and one main course and still took food home.

The mixed green salad, made with romaine, tomatoes, olives and peppers drenched in Italian dressing, was enough for four (and costs $9). I'm not sure what just two people do when they want salad -- maybe just plan to eat a lot.

Our appetizer, the hot antipasto, was the hit of the evening. Things were definitely looking up: tender jumbo shrimp with a nice charred flavor, perfect little stuffed clams and mussels, grilled calamari and slices of slightly charred chicken breast, thin strips of grilled eggplant and zucchini. Two could order this and nothing else and leave full and happy.

When it came to the main course, nobody wanted to share just one thing, so we got the "festa Amore," a sampling of cheese tortellini, eggplant parmigiana, and veal and chicken parmigiana. (It wasn't that easy to tell the last two apart, what with the crusty coating and blanket of mozzarella and red sauce.)

Not bad, but next time I'd get what the table next to us had: great mounds of fat shrimp tossed with garlic and oil and served over pasta. (I knew they'd be great from our appetizer.) Another possibility would be the whole roasted chicken with roast potatoes, which is, I've heard, a popular choice.

Only desserts come in individual portions -- except for the rich, moist bread pudding (our waitress's recommendation), which feeds four comfortably. If you want your own all to yourself, try the zuppa inglese, something like an English trifle, or the ever popular tira misu.

That's Amore

720 Kenilworth Drive

(410) 825-5255

Hours: Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight, Sunday, 4 p.m.-9:30 p.m.

Credit cards: Major credit cards

Prices: appetizers, $9-$21; entrees, $14-$44

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