A grand staircase that Sarah Bernhardt could like, a lightly playing fountain, and a coquettishly angled sun umbrella up over the bar contribute to a dramatic, witty atmosphere at Troia that I love. What a stylish, cheerful place to eat a meal. And at the Walters! After viewing the jewels, porcelains and Roman sarcophagi, you can relax and digest the beauties of the material world with a sip of Campari, a slip of prosciutto and an osso bucco.
Gino Troia cooks well. He doesn't specialize in fancy constructions, he serves the food of Italy's grandmothers. Grilled eggplant and roasted peppers. Immaculately fresh salad greens. Simple kebabs, or spiedini, of lamb with marvelous green peas, laced with curls of pancetta -- a bacon for princes. Delicious crab cakes for visitors in search of Baltimore's signature dish, served with good snap peas and a triangle of polenta.
FOR THE RECORD - In the Dining Out guide of Sept. 18, an incorrect phone number was listed for Troia, the Bistro at the Walters. The correct number is 410-752-2887.
The Sun regrets the errors.
For dessert there was a lovely, very lemon lemon tart as well as a light, spirit-soothing bread pudding. The selection of wines was good, the service smooth and professional.
Truffles, the Belvedere, 1 E. Chase St., 410-347-0888. *** $ $ $ $
You may feel as if you've stepped into Baltimore's past at Truffles, the showcase dining spot at the Belvedere. Walls painted with a pastoral panorama of the city tell the story of another time. But there's nothing old-fashioned about the menu. Combinations like black beans and blue cheese on the Caesar salad and fried oxtail ravioli with pan-seared rockfish sounded odd but worked beautifully.
Similarly, chopped peanuts and a fruity tamarind sauce were perfectly matched foils for tender smoked lamb chops. The shellfish sampler appetizer was a visual stunner, with ribbons of fried plantains accenting a martini glass of grilled shrimp. But the spicy spiked clams and smoky fried oysters had a little too much going on for our tastes.
Mango creme brulee, a bowlful of tropical elegance, and signature truffle cake, topped with a thick layer of dark chocolate, made a fine ending at this romantic restaurant. We enjoyed impeccable service and loved the muted opulence of the room, done in shades of moss and mahogany.