No one goes hungry at Sammy's Trattoria

Restaurant Review

July 02, 2006|By ELIZABETH LARGE | ELIZABETH LARGE,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

A friend who eats with me regularly has a conspiracy theory about restaurants that keep opening and closing in one location. He thinks the way to succeed in the business would be to get a long-term lease and every two or three years close down and reopen with a new name, new concept and new staff. That's about the length of time it takes for a hot new restaurant to become yesterday's news. If things aren't going well, you can close down and reopen after six months, like a Broadway show.

I absolutely do not believe this is what's happening at 1200 N. Charles. It just feels that way with the opening of Sammy's Trattoria where Limoges, a French bistro, and before it Tampico, a Mexican restaurant, was.

Sammy is owner Sam Curreri, an energetic and personable 36-year-old, who was general manager at Chiapparelli's in Little Italy before this. You'll meet him if you do what we did: order the family-style dinner for $30 a person. As far as I'm concerned, this is the way to go at Sammy's -- as long as you're very hungry.

The waitress brought Curreri to our table to talk about what we might want. We asked for his advice. The first thing he said was, "Stop with the bread."

This wasn't easy because it was very good bread, chewy and flavorful, with a fruity olive oil for dipping. But if you're smart, you'll do exactly that. Sammy's specializes in traditional southern Italian food, hearty and filling. But even by Little Italy standards the family-style dinner involves enormous amounts of food. We took home enough pasta and meat to feed the four of us the next night. It's not a chef's tasting menu, as our waitress warned us.

Everything we had is on the regular menu but came on platters to share: three appetizers, two salads, two pastas, two entrees and three desserts. (The plates of pasta arrived with the meat and fish.) You can put yourself in Curreri's hands when ordering, which we essentially did, but I wished afterward that we had given him a bit more guidance.

I could easily have made a dinner on two of the appetizers. In fact, we almost did, so we were flagging by the time we got to the main courses. The base of the shrimp bruschetta was excellent grilled bread, warm, chewy and fragrant with olive oil. The contrast with the chilled, chopped topping of shrimp, tomatoes, olives, capers and shavings of parmigiana made it hard to resist, and we didn't.

The antipasti freddi was as lovely as it was delicious, a colorful spread of fresh mozzarella, red summer tomatoes and enormous fresh basil leaves with capers and olives on a white plate. I was less excited about our third appetizer, very garlicky broccoli rabe cooked with Italian sausage.

Two house salads to share came next, which for some reason didn't have the promised creamy house dressing that evening but an ordinary vinaigrette. We pretty much ignored them.

What I would have done differently was ask for a little more variety among our four main platters. Each was good on its own, but they seemed a little repetitious. I also would have included more vegetables, but that's just me. When Curreri asked us what we liked, my guests volunteered seafood, veal and chicken. I threw in pasta -- pastas are made at Sammy's daily, along with soups, stocks and meatballs. I should have been even more specific: The duck ravioli with spinach in a butter sauce sounded great.

Not that there was anything wrong with what we got. Fat, flat pappardelle had a wonderful texture, emphasized by the smooth pesto and pine nuts they were tossed with. The equally good penne stood up well to its intensely flavorful Bolognese sauce, slow-simmered and meaty.

Chicken or veal? Curreri didn't make us choose. He arranged boneless chicken breasts and veal cutlets on one platter and sauced them with lemon, butter, Kalamata olives and capers. Because of that, I would have chosen a different sauce for the golden-crusted flounder fillet, as fresh as it was delicate -- other than lemon, butter, olives and capers -- but if you're ordering it alone, I highly recommend it.

The waitress could probably tell we weren't going to make it through four whole desserts, so she brought three. We picked at an artery-clogging chocolate pudding cake and a pleasantly oozy tiramisu. The only dessert that makes sense after a meal like this is the gelato: three fruity scoops (mango, raspberry and lemon) served in a wineglass.

Sammy's was busy, so we were willing to cut our waitress a little slack when she wasn't as attentive as we felt she should have been. But I did raise an eyebrow when she sat down at another table to chat with the good-looking guy eating there. It was clearly someone she had known before.

Apart from that, dinner at Sammy's was a lot of fun. With luck, southern Italian food and a warmhearted, attentive owner will be enough of a draw to let Sammy's Trattoria succeed where others have failed.

......................

elizabeth.large@baltsun.com

SAMMY'S TRATTORIA

FOOD *** (3 stars)

SERVICE ** 1 / 2 (2 1/2 stars)

ATMOSPHERE *** (3 stars)

Address: 1200 N. Charles St.

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $5.99-$9.99; main courses, $13.99-$27.99

Call: 410-837-9999

Ratings / / Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor:*

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