Food **1/2 (2 1/2 stars)
Service *** (3 stars)
Atmosphere *** (3 stars)
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe most people go to Little Italy because they want to eat Italian food. You're taking a chance, then, if you're a restaurant like the new Petalo's, which opened recently where Luigi Petti was.
Petalo's is owned by the folks who also own the Afghan Kebab downtown. More power to them if they can sell the idea of a Little Italy restaurant that has Middle Eastern food, generic Italian dishes, and straightforward American fare in equal measure. People who live in the neighborhood will appreciate the variety, but will the tourists?
They will if the execution is flawless, the service is warm and friendly, and the price is right.
Well, the last two parts of the equation are there.
It should help that Petalo's has the nicest outdoor eating space in Little Italy - a covered balcony, not just a few tables set out next to the street. In the summer, customers will be lured in by that alone.
They will find much to like. Kebabs, it will come as no surprise, are excellent; and there are plenty to choose from. The lamb chunks are flavorful and juicy, and the grilled vegetables that come with them have a pleasant edge of char. The pallow - rice flavored with spices like cardamom, cinnamon and cumin - isn't an afterthought, but a superbly seasoned equal on the plate.
Harbor East's new Lebanese Taverna has set the standard for great hummus, but Petalo's gives it a run for its money. The restaurant's baba ghannouj is a little too one-note for me (that note being eggplant), but others at the table liked it. The falafel, we all agreed, were dried out - hard as little rocks.
Petalo's Italian food is competently done, but people come to Little Italy for signature dishes as much as anything (Chiapparelli's chopped salad, for instance). Petalo's doesn't have one - not an Italian one, anyway. The dishes consist of a few traditional pastas, a couple of chicken dishes, eggplant parmigiana and veal Marsala.
About the most you can say about the veal Marsala is that it's pleasant. Mussels in white wine, an Italian appetizer, pleased everyone; but my friend who ordered them also said, "I never met a mussel I didn't like," instead of "I'll remember how good this dish was for a long time."
Homemade fettuccine Alfredo with chicken was short on the promised asparagus. The pasta melted in the mouth, but the chicken made the dish taste too much like chicken tetrazzini, not a favorite of mine.Shrimp, which is offered as a substitute (and costs $3.99 more), would have been more elegant choice.
I wasn't particularly excited about the fried ravioli appetizer, but maybe that's my fault rather than the kitchen's. I mean, why fry ravioli?
We did pick one selection from the traditional American side of the menu, a salmon fillet in a cream sauce over spinach. It was beautifully presented, with colorful mixed vegetables arranged on the plate next to the fish and a sprinkling of parsley around the edge of the white plate. But for some reason, the salmon had a slice of cheese melted over it - not a good idea.
Petalo's doesn't make its own desserts, but they are fine if you don't mind squiggles of chocolate syrup over every one of them - including the tiramisu, whose delicate flavors of espresso and cream were sabotaged by the addition. That's simple to fix, and it's a fine tiramisu. The others are mostly ice cream treats like mango sorbet in a white chocolate shell and tartufo.
It remains to be seen how a restaurant that wants to be all things to all tastes will do in Little Italy. Sometimes this time of year, a fine place to eat outdoors is the most important thing, as long as the food is competently done and the service is good. If that's how you feel, head for Petalo's. You'll find plenty to like on the menu, but it won't necessarily be the Italian food.
1002 Eastern Ave., Little Italy
Open daily for lunch and dinner
Appetizers, $6.99-$8.99; entrees, $9.99-$28.99
410-685-0055[Outstanding: Good: Fair or Uneven: Poor:]