Casual elegance comes into play near stadium



With the opening of the Diamond Tavern in the Hilton Baltimore and now Frank & Nic's West End Grille (511 W. Pratt St., 410-685-6800,, the area around Oriole Park at Camden Yards just got a little more elegantly casual, or maybe a little more casually elegant.

Frank and Nic are Frank Zafonte and Dominic Lascola, and their new restaurant is at the base of the luxury Zenith Apartments. Their place serves as a more upscale alternative to the pubs and sports bars that used to be all that was available around the stadium. Instead of a burger and beer, you can get American cuisine with Asian accents and selections from an extensive wine list that focuses on California. Dinner entrees - such as seared tuna and cuts of steak - run from $16 to $36.

The handsomely appointed, 200-seat space has what Zafonte calls "three dynamic areas": a bar, the main dining room and a private dining room. Outdoor seating will be available when the weather gets better.

You won't be turned away if you're wearing your Ravens shirt, says Zafonte, but you won't feel uncomfortable in a coat and tie, either. The contemporary decor is done in shades of burgundy, silver and gold, with booths and two granite-topped bars. Black-and-white photos of Baltimore scenes line the walls.

The grill is open 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, with a late-night menu served until 1:30 a.m.

New chef at Vito's After Giovanni Rigato, the owner/chef of Boccaccio in Little Italy, died recently, Luca Pesci, who had worked with him for 10 years, moved to Vito's Cafe (10249 York Road, Cockeysville, 410-666-3100, This is good news for those who have missed the fine northern Italian food at Boccaccio.

Pesci will be overhauling Vito's menu in the spring, co-owner Tony Petronelli told me, but right now he has introduced two specials at lunch and two or three at dinner that highlight his signature dishes.

When I talked to Pesci, he said he was improving the presentation of the dishes on the regular menu. "The food was good," he said, but the dishes "looked like they did 10 or 20 years ago, crammed on the plate."

As for his specials, Pesci has been introducing customers to tripe, wild boar, quail, baby octopus, rabbit, heads-on shrimp and suckling pig.

"People aren't as finicky as they were at Boccaccio," he said. "They are more willing to try new things because [the restaurant] isn't as pricey."

Vito's also lets you bring your own bottle, an added plus in this economy.

Howard openings While it seems as if most of the news these days is about restaurant closings, Howard County has had more than its share of restaurant openings recently - or at least tavern and bar-restaurants, such as the Ten Oaks Tavern in Glenelg, the Second Chance Saloon in Columbia and the Diamondback Tavern in Ellicott City.

An even more interesting project (at least to me) is in the works, Pure Wine Cafe, which will be located where Annabell's Wine Bar used to be at 8210 Main St. in Ellicott City. If all goes well, it should open in early February.

One of the owners, P.J. Strain, told me it will be a combination of a relaxed neighborhood coffeehouse and New Age bistro, with an emphasis on wine. The place is small, only 900 square feet, with 40 seats, 12 of which are at the square bar.

Someone who knows his wines, Strain said, will always be there to guide customers through the international list. The wine list isn't set in stone yet, but it will consist of 40 or 50 bottles and 20 by the glass or half-glass. Mark Bowman, another owner, is the sommelier. "We'll be very hands on," Strain said, "without the pretensions that are historically in the world of wine."

The third owner, chef Kevin Brothers, was formerly at Great Sage in Clarksville. His menu will consist of hot and cold small plates. The cafe will feature Mediterranean-influenced dishes but have an American bistro feel, said Strain.

"Our philosophy about the food," he added, "is keep it simple but make simple as nice as possible."

Deal of the Week Ale Mary's (Fleet and Washington streets, 410-276-2044, in Fells Point has a blue-plate special Tuesday nights for $5.95. Owner Tom Rivers, whose wife, Mary, does the cooking, described it to me as a "big dinner of home cooking." It's usually something like meatloaf, spaghetti or lasagna.

That's the most spectacular deal offered, but Ale Mary's also has a half-pound burger, chips and a bottle of Natty Boh for $5.95 on Mondays, steamed shrimp for $6.95 (half pound) or $9.95 (pound) on Wednesdays and a 10-ounce New York strip steak with mashed potatoes and vegetable for $10.95 on Thursdays.

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