In 2007, when Cinghiale opened, Baltimore was a very different city. The restaurant scene was just beginning to blossom and local diners weren’t nearly as knowledgeable about food as they are today. Cinghiale’s new neighborhood, Harbor East, was in the early stages of development, with the Four Seasons Hotel a brand new construction project (the hotel, which anchors the neighborhood today, opened in 2011).
But that didn’t stop restaurateur Tony Foreman and award-winning chef Cindy Wolf from opening Cinghiale, an ambitious and excellent restaurant that challenged locals’ perceptions of Italian food. Foreman and Wolf, the minds behind the powerhouse restaurant group Foreman Wolf, which also operates mainstays like Charleston and Petit Louis, had a vision for the restaurant and perceived – correctly – that Baltimore’s restaurant scene was about to explode.
On Thursday, Sept. 21, Cinghiale will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its opening with complimentary glasses of prosecco and a “Cellar Raid,” with half-priced bottles of wine from its impressive collection.
We caught up with Foreman to chat about the restaurant, favorite dishes from the kitchen, which is now helmed by Chef James Lewandowski, Cinghiale’s mission and what he’s learned over the past decade.
On Cinghiale’s mission:
Tony Foreman: Cindy [Wolf, Foreman’s business partner] does her play on French food at Charleston and we love to do the classics at Petit Louis. I wanted people to see the way the Italians — especially those provinces in the north — how individual those cuisines are, how particular that rhythm of dining is, how remarkable those wines are. I wanted to share the specificity and honesty of it.
Much less than other cuisines, it’s much less [about] combinations and much more driven by expressing one simple thing: the octopus you’re cooking, the zucchini you’re cooking. There’s a very “slow food” feeling about Italian food. It’s something very close to my heart, the amount of care that goes into that.
We wanted the restaurant, from the beginning, to feel like a lot of care went into the space, into the dishes – even the ones that seem simple. There’s tremendous care that goes into even the easiest pasta.
On his most memorable moments at Cinghiale:
TF: We have certain moments where you have famous people come in, and that’s all very nice and we have all kinds of fantastic parties, whether it’s just a few people or a large group. You don’t forget those. But what sticks with me most is doing the original training for the restaurant and watching this group of young people who were complete novices do everything they were being taught. Watching them take it in, get turned on and want to share it was incredibly motivating and sustaining for me over the past 10 years.
On favorite dishes:
TF: There are a couple pastas from the original menu that people have to have and some dishes, even silly things like bruschetta with forest mushrooms or Roman-style fried chicken, that people still go bananas for.
And the casunsei – a pasta. The name is slang for “kitchen sink.” We make a sausage with all parts of the pig – the liver being important – and fill these half moons with the sausage and serve with a very old-fashioned sauce. Good Italian butter that’s browned a little bit, a little stock reduction – not too reduced. Casunsei has a light garnish of this sauce with fresh sage.
On seasonal cooking:
TF: We make a simple tomato sauce all through tomato season to last through the year. We have to make so much sauce. We get 100 or 200 pounds of good local tomatoes at a time, get them to the point of ripeness, then make it.”
On the differences between Italian and French cuisine:
TF: It’s funny about Italian food – one thing that’s so different from French is that you almost never want a sauce to dominate. You want it to be part of the what the dish is.
Pasta dishes are not all about the sauce. It’s about making the pasta great in the first place and having it be fresh, so you use whatever sauce so the pasta takes on the most flavor possible. It’s rare to have a full reduction sauce, like on a French menu. It should be about the fish or bird or meat. You don’t even want the dressing to dominate a salad. You’re driving from the center of the ingredient; the original part.”
On the name:
TF: Frankly, I was kind of an idiot in choosing the name. I speak Italian and thought it would entertain my friends who are Italian. I’m also in Baltimore, and I’m an idiot. I didn’t realize that no one would know how to pronounce the name of the restaurant!
On what he’s learned over the past decade, and how Baltimore’s restaurant scene has changed:
TF: Probably the most important lesson that I had was about feeling strong about your original mission and sticking to it. The first year and a half, we had a lot of guests who were relatively confused by what we offered and how we offered it. It was very different than what they thought of an Italian restaurant being in format and content. People were a little flummoxed.
All of a sudden, right around two years in, a lot of the people who were a little confused in the beginning would come up and say, “Wow, this is our favorite restaurant.” To go from people saying, “You don’t know what you’re doing,” to, ‘This is it,” that was amazing.
I got grief for a while but I’ve always trusted the market and our city and the diners. It’s cool to see them get what we’re trying to share. And we also probably got a whole lot better at getting it across.
Cinghiale. 822 Lancaster Street, Harbor East. 410-547-8282.