This small BYOB café in a local strip mall has the best Italian cuisine in the Baltimore region. The arrival several years ago of Tuscan Chef Lucca from a restaurant that closed in Baltimore’s Little Italy has elevated the level of the cuisine considerably. The veal scallopini offerings are always remarkable, the brick oven thin crust pizza is top-flight, and the daily specials (usually seafood) are always worth trying. The service is superb, and their BYOB-friendly status makes it the go-to place for casual, but top quality dining. We started with their prosciuto pizza and superb deep-fried calamari, then moved to an assortment of veal scallopini dishes (I usually can’t resist their veal parmigiana, the finest I have ever had). Chef Lucca also does a phenomenal job with his seafood marinara dishes, on this occasion a perfectly cooked grouper in a flavorful tomato-based broth with spices and fish stock, accompanied by delicious mussels. It was a perfect marriage with red wine.
The wines included a crisp, evolved, but fresh, lively 2003 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc. The wood has been completely absorbed, and the wine exhibits lots of lemon grass, citrus, and nectarine notes interwoven with a hint of honey. This 2003 can certainly evolve for another decade, but for a Domaine de Chevalier Blanc (which can last 30-40 years), it was showing well, but on a fast evolutionary track. The opulent, voluptuously textured, honeyed Sine Qua Non 2007 Body and Soul was stunning, displaying soaring aromatics of pineapple, candle wax, honeysuckle, orange marmalade, and white peaches. This brilliant blend possesses good acidity, superb freshness, full body, and not a trace of oak. It should age well, but given the tiny allocations and how well it is drinking at present, what’s the point in waiting?
The red wines included the 1997 Marcassin Pinot Noir, one of the first offerings from the Sonoma Coast estate vineyard of Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer. Although I have had better bottles of this cuvée, this was still a top-flight Pinot Noir. At age 13, it is showing no signs of decline. Copious aromas of game/meat intermixed with boysenberries, black cherries, Asian plum sauce, and smoked duck are followed by a medium to full-bodied wine that tailed off slightly in the finish. This brilliant example of Pinot Noir appears to be at its peak, but it is capable of lasting another 15+ years. This was the first time I had the stunning 2007 Domaine de la Solitude Châteauneuf du Pape Réserve Secrete out of bottle. Composed of 60% Grenache and 40% Mourvèdre (a lot of it aged in small oak), it boasts a dense purple color as well as an extraordinary nose of kirsch, licorice, blackberries, and subtle spice. The oak is completely concealed in this modern-styled Châteauneuf du Pape, which reveals plenty of the region’s Provençal typicity. Like many 2007s, it displays almost over-powering fruit, extract, and richness. This luscious, full-bodied, rich Châteauneuf is capable of twenty or more years of evolution. How wonderful it is to see this estate, which made so many great Châteauneuf du Papes in the 1960s and early 1970s, return to the top echelon of the appellation’s finest estates over the last decade.
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Petit Louis Bistro
A lookalike, authentic French bistro, Petit Louis in Baltimore's Roland Park is the creation of restauranteurs par excellence Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman. You feel like you’ve walked into a bistro on the Left Bank of Paris when you enter Petit Louis. The food is classic bistro, and they do it well. All of the courses we had were flavorful, sometimes a trifle rustic, but delicious in their intensity. This was good comfort food prepared extremely well. The wines started with one of the major surprises for me over the last year, the 2006 sparking wine from Tony Soter in Oregon. I had this several times while I was out visiting Oregon, and I had always been impressed, but this is a 10-year-old sparking Rosé that is just sensational, and I’m talking world class—it’s that good. Something this good from France would cost at least two to three times as much, so kudos to Tony Soter. The 1995 Billaud-Simon Chablis Mont de Milieu was oxidized and undrinkable. The 1996 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos St. Urbain Rangen de Thann was sweet, and although it went well with the foie gras, it was just a little too unctuous and sweet a wine...