Milan definitely has the wow factor. Even the most jaded diner will be jolted out of lethargy with its dramatic white-and-crimson color scheme downstairs and the silver-and-white contemporary treatment on the second level. Whether you love or hate the glitz, you’ll remember it, all 12,000 square feet.
We happen to like the glam quotient, which raises the restaurant stakes in Little Italy—and downtown Baltimore. There’s nothing else quite like it. Low, inviting couches are strategically placed around the lounge, a sleek red bar promises pleasures, funk music throbs, and mod tables and chairs look sci-fi and intriguing. The pieces meld together for a sophisticated, head-turning setting, created by local designer Meghan Hoffmann. There’s more, too—covered, outdoor seating, the upstairs dining area (via, appropriately, a red-carpeted stairway), and VIP rooms.
Milan’s motto, “Where Food Meets Fashion,” might sound a little highfalutin, but the dressed-for-success crowd seemed to take it seriously the nights we were there. It doesn’t come as a surprise that there is a dress code—à la the restaurant Pazo. Essentially, the rules are no T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, caps, or tennis shoes.
All this coolness comes with a price tag—in euros, no less, which some have criticized as being too precious or haute for Crabtown. We’d like to think that the restaurant is just having fun with the menu. And besides, there are U.S. currency translations. So what’s the big deal?
The Italian-influenced menu is ambitiously divided into several sections, including small plates, flatbreads and bruschettas, antipasti, pasta and risotto, and meat and seafood entrees. There’s also an Italian sushi menu (yes, you read that right) and a fancy-drinks roster with martinis named Valentino, Armani, and Prada.
Since our visits, we’ve been told that the sushi offerings are going to change. But we really hope the restaurant keeps the antipasti rotolo, a wrap with sopressatta, prosciutto, and mozzarella that is sliced into six bite-size rolls and decoratively queued up on a long white plate with sprinkled mâche and drizzled balsamic squiggles. It was as lovely as it was delicious.
The upside of so many menu choices is that diners can decide whether they want to go casual or formal. On one night, we took the informal route with shrimp flatbread and salmon bruschetta. No matter what you order, executive chef Stephen Carey, a Johnson & Wales culinary grad, creates a flavor palette that relies on seasonal and local products, creative pairings, and liberal doses of fresh herbs.
The salmon bruschetta, for instance, was aromatic with fronds of dill over the smoked fish, capers, and crème fraîche. And the crisp flatbread was exquisite with plump shrimp, oozy fontina, and cilantro leaves. We also sampled several small plates.
The lobster mac and cheese in a big, angled bowl was creamy with a smoked Gouda béchamel. The silky cheese sauce with an undertone of white truffle essence generously coated the chiocciole pasta (large elbows shaped liked snails). The grilled lamb “lollipops” were a bit chewy but still packed plenty of flavor, especially with the lemon rosemary aioli. The vertically stacked crispy polenta cakes—“Who gets the tower?” a kitchen runner asked—were impressive, layered with sausage rounds in a red-pepper ricotta pesto and basil oil.
Salads get equal attention, too, and have their own twists. The warm spinach salad isn’t your typical plate of greens: Here, the spinach is molded into a small timbale shape, served with shrimp, and moistened with citrus vinaigrette. It was supposed to include a quail egg, but the kitchen was out of game-bird eggs that evening. Our server suggested a deviled-egg substitution, which worked just fine.
We’ve heard that the restaurant will be adding more steak choices because of demand. We can understand why. Our eight-ounce filet mignon (with a hint of charring) was a perfect dish. The steak was served medium rare as ordered and was bursting with beefiness. It was subtly brushed with a walnut Gorgonzola butter and sat atop spring-thin asparagus with a scattering of roasted fingerling potatoes. For hearty appetites, a 20-ounce, bone-in rib-eye is also available—for $42.
The risotto with caramelized sea scallops was a lush, decadent combo with wild mushrooms and corn, adding body to the delicate rice. Our smoked-paprika-dusted Chilean sea bass was thick and tender with an exhilarating peppery watercress cream to wake up the fish.
Tiramisu is so passé but still shows up on dessert menus all over town. And this time, we’re glad it did. Served in a clear dish, this version was refreshing and light-as-a-feather with homemade ladyfingers, sweet mascarpone, espresso, coffee liqueur, dark rum, and cocoa. The Grand Marnier-scented vanilla-custard crème brûlée with candied orange peel was another soothing, airy finish.
And for chocoholics, the double-layer chocolate hazelnut torte is moist and dense. There’s also espresso and cappuccino—make it a single or a double!
The servers are eager to please and mostly attentive, though they aren’t as polished as the upscale environs call for. On one visit, our waitress was all over us until midway through the meal. Then, we lost her to another table—and it wasn’t even crowded. Another time, the server rattled on for so long about the menu, we found it hard to concentrate. For these prices, you expect more diligence.
But we’re sure you’ll find much to like about the city’s newest, hippest restaurant, whether you’re just stopping by for drinks and snacks or looking for a serious dining destination. Chef Carey is certainly doing his job in the kitchen and won’t let you down.