Saturday, January 29, 2011

Portalli's Lamb Shank Tops The Gourmet's Night

The '34 Act Gourmet can serve up his own standing rib roast, but he likes to get out of the kitchen as well -- and into Portalli's in Ellicott City where he and his wife ate last weekend with friends who drove up from Chevy Chase:
As soon as I arrived, I realized that the restaurant's performance would be sorely tested during Restaurant Week. The abnormal cold plus the prix fixe menu resulted in a packed restaurant and a half-hour delay between our reservation and the time we were seated. However, although Portalli's could have benefited from having more people on staff that night, it was absolutely worth the wait.  The hostess took us up the stairs to a dining room which I hasn't known existed.  A little more than a year ago, we had eat on Portalli's ground floor, which is very cozy but gives no hint to the huge space on the second floor.
Honestly, the only complaint we had (which was relatively minor) was the service was a little slow for drinks to arrive and for our server to provide menus and take our orders. Indeed, by the time the menus were put in front of us, we were inspired enough by other dishes that nobody in our party picked the Restaurant Week menu. 
We started by sharing two appetizers -- baked mozzarella and calamari. The baked mozzarella was delicious - very fresh mozzarella and a dollop of tomato sauce on top of crusty bread. The calamari also was prepared well -- the squid itself was very fresh and the batter was very light.
Lamb shank courtesy of Portalli's 
Between the appetizers and the main courses, we each split salads. I went with the Ceasar salad which was very good, but not the highlight of the meal. That award went to my main course, the slow-braised lamb shank in Chianti sauce. From the first bite I could tell that a lot of care went into preparing this simple yet outstanding meal. The lamb literally fell away from the bone, yet was moist and extremely well flavored. The slightly-sweet and dry accompanying Chianti sauce perfectly complemented the slight tanginess of the lamb. Ms. '34 Act Gourmet ordered the lasagna, which also deserves special mention. What I appreciated about the lasagne was that it clearly was cooked to order. Portalli's serves it to you in a way that it really looks like it just came out of the oven, not swimming in tomato sauce. The lasagne fills a baking-proof dish, and the mozzarella drips over the side.
In the drinks department, Portalli's makes a pretty mean manhattan, although like many specialty drinks the price reminds me of my days in New York.
Price-wise, Portalli's is a bargain. The quality of the food is on par with Tosca in DC, a comparison I don't make lightly. While you won't catch a glimpse of Justice Scalia at Portalli's, you will spend about 1/3 of what you would at Tosca and avoid the hour-long drive. Plus, you can dress for comfort instead of having to dress to impress.
 I'm completely in the tank for Portalli's, where Lee, Sara and others let me tag along for a night last spring.  It is upscale Italian in downtown Ellicott City from the same folks who bring you the more-casual Diamondback Tavern as well.

This is part of a week of guest posts highlighting finds that other people have found around Howard County.


Anonymous said...

Great writeup, and it pretty much summarized our Restaurant Week experience there too, right down to me thoroughly enjoying the lamb shank. The wife went with the Rest. Week menu, and I elected to order off the regular menu; we both loved everything. While the lamb shank was quite delicious, I have to say that our favorite dish of the night was the pear puff pastry dessert with marscapone. It came on the recommendation of our waiter and I'm very glad we listened to him.

Morty Abzug said...
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