Straight Up on Dining Out: Aggio

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AGGIO


By Christine Fillat


 

Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods rich with restaurants and nightlife. The secret is to know where to go. Tucked away on quiet streets is an epicure’s delight of culinary treasures. In a tiny row of restaurants a stone’s throw from the Inner Harbor is a local outpost of a nationally known Maryland chef.

Bryan Voltaggio introduced himself to food lovers nationwide with his stint on Bravo Network’s Top Chef. As a season six contestant, Voltaggio was a finalist (his brother, Michael, beat him), and viewers grew to love Bryan’s calm demeanor and admire his skill in the kitchen. Volt, Voltaggio’s first restaurant, put Frederick, Maryland on the culinary map with guests traveling great distances to take in the theatre of fine dining.

A little more than a year ago, Voltaggio brought his culinary repartee to Baltimore with Aggio. On a side street near Power Plant Live!, valet parking takes all the worry out of wondering what to do with your car. The interiors are elegant in hues of grey, with leather banquettes, white upholstered chairs, and sculptural ceiling lighting fixtures; jazz fills the rooms, and the air is scented with the aroma of something delicious to eat.

The bar menu offers a host of beverages with amusing names like The Junkyard Doll and Waxing Poetic. A Haymaker is a smoky blend of mezcal, Benedictine, apple cardamom shrub, and lemon. This drink is very smooth, and with all its unusual components, it hits all the right notes for an evening cocktail.

The cuisine at Aggio is a combination of Americana and Italia. A Parmesan funnel cake channels the Ocean City boardwalk: a bit over salty, a bit greasy, but small enough to eat out of hand and a fitting introduction to the mash-up of the two culinary regions. Fresh focaccia (also rather salty) is served with a ricotta olive oil herb spread and a mortadella puree.

The antipasti section of the menu is a variety of salads and palate teasers, a kitchen scientist’s inventive pairings of ingredients, with quite a few hits and a couple of misses. Caesar Salad is made of kale and romaine with hints of fennel and served with fried oysters in place of the typical anchovies. The combination is quite good, and the oysters make this salad substantial enough to serve as an entrée. Grilled octopus, with green olive, preserved Meyer lemon, fregola, and marcona almonds, has the promise of greatness. Unfortunately, the octopus was overcooked and dry, rendering the dish somewhat disappointing.  “Cucumber” is a surprise hit. Arriving in a silky green broth, a mound in the middle of the bowl is made up of smoked salmon, cucumber, and fish roe all chopped into pieces of the exact same size. Each bite is a flavor sensation of smoked salmon, crunchy cucumber, or exploding caviar. This is a home run, pretty to look at, and a pleasure to eat. A very fine roasted beet salad is prepared with autumn root tops, pistachio, citrus, and tender burrata.

The pastas at Aggio are house-made and available in whole or half plate portions. Potato Mezzaluna is half-moon shapes of pasta, stuffed with potato, mascarpone, and Parmesan, served with a black truffle red wine sugo. This substantial dish is welcome this time of year. Tonnarelli Nero is a squid ink pasta abounding with Maryland blue crab, super spicy with jalapeno, and crunchy with pepperoni. Uni was listed as an ingredient, but it was difficult to find. The Lasagna is prepared with a lamb bolognese, sheep milk ricotta, pecorino, and thin layers of pasta. This is heavy and rich, and only comes in full portions.

Secondi offerings include selections from the sea and the farm. My dinner guest and I shared Rabbit Porchetta between the two of us. The saddle of rabbit is wrapped in bacon, served with savory garlic, mustard, hazlenuts, and bitter greens.

A side dish of crispy Brussels sprouts, with chilies, pecorino, and lemon, was, alas, too overcooked to enjoy. These Brussels sprouts wanted to be French fries. They lacked the juicy tenderness one expects from Brussels sprouts.

A four-course prix fixe menu is available, with or without wine pairings.

For dessert, a panna cotta with strawberry sorbet was pleasing, with scatterings of nuts and honey, and a pretty ball of spun sugar. The torta al cioccolato with pistachio sorbet and pink peppercorn was a bit dry. A light meringue with raspberry, Meyer lemon curd, and basil ice cream was delicate and tangy, a luscious way to end a meal.

Aggio is New American/Italian cuisine at its best, using fresh local and exotic ingredients and combining them in new and unexpected ways. If you crave classic Italian food, Little Italy is just a few blocks away, and there are plenty of great establishments to visit there. But, for a contemporary culinary spin, Aggio is a destination, and you don’t have to travel all the way to Frederick to discover what Bryan Voltaggio is cooking up in his kitchen.

 

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Aggio
614 Water Street
Baltimore, MD  21202

410.528.0200

volt-aggio.com

Hours of Operation:

Tuesday - Saturday
5:00 PM - 11:00 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christine Fillat lives on the Magothy River and is an aficionado
of Chesapeake Bay cooking and living.

 

From Vol. 6, No. 6 2015
Annapolis Home Magazine