I’d had a few days on my friend Lauren’s farm in Pennsylvania eating excellent steak, communing with odorous goats, and generally being looked after in fine style.
Lauren safely delivered me to Baltimore and after a little walk around their harbour Christmas market during which time we ate a decent savoury crepe, we said our farewells. I headed to my hotel room for a pre-dinner nap.
Duly fortified, I tootled along the road towards Baltimore’s downtown district and soon found myself in the stylish confines of a popular Italian called Sotto Sopra.
With some highly elaborate contemporary mural work, the place felt elegant but highly approachable with a busy crowd and notably exuberant diners at the bar. The Christmas spirit was abounding as the city’s festive lights had been switched on mere moments before.
I was shown to a table with a good view of the comings and goings, then left to contemplate both an extensive a la carte and an equally replete list of today’s specials.
As I sipped a Garibaldi, I settled on starting with their polenta special then following with their seafood ciopinno, a dish I’d first been introduced to at the much missed Redwood.
The starter soon arrived looking oddly like a hooded figure draped in ham. The head of the figure was a little tower of very light polenta and a poached egg with the drapery a mix of thinly sliced cheese and high quality prosciutto. It was a dish that managed to be both light and substantial and despite the slightly odd presentation was very successful.
The ciopinno was preceded by the arrival of an array of utensils which meant I was going to be cracking shells. These proved to be very substantial lobster parts, along with river and sea fish, calamari, clams, mussels and prawns, all set in a tomatoey broth rich with seafood goodness.
As is often the way with these type of seafood stews, various elements were a touch overcooked but the general quality of the ingredients still shone through with the prawns particularly good. The broth was a really well-crafted unifying backbone, too. I enjoyed the dish very much.
I rounded things out with a misjudged coffee – it was extremely bitter Lavazza – but was left to stroll home generally contented with my evening.
So overall, Sotto Sopra served me two very good courses in a vibrant place with a fair amount of charm. It was a highly pleasing opening meal in the city.
Blythe scores Sotto Sopra
4/5 for food
3.5/5 for presentation
4/5 for service
4/5 for setting
giving an overall 15.5/20
I ate: polenta with poached egg and prosciutto, seafood ciopinno
I drank: Garibaldi, red wine, water
I wore: two coats
Total bill: $77.07
Address: 405 North Charles Street, Baltimore, 21201