Locust Point newcomer Limoncello might soon be your new favorite restaurant for a special occasion. But if you live nearby, it could become your trusty neighborhood spot, too.
Limoncello opened in late October, on the first floor of Anthem House, one of the new mixed-use buildings that have popped up around South Baltimore over the past few years. Anthem House’s developers call it a “lifestyle community.” In addition to luxury apartments, the building houses a barre/fitness studio and several restaurants.
The building itself is sleek and polished, and Limoncello fits right in. The restaurant’s space is attractive and urbane, with high ceilings, huge windows looking out to the street and dark wood offset by lighter gray, blue and green upholstery and artwork.
On a recent Wednesday night we did not have a reservation and were lucky to snag a high-top table in the restaurant’s bar area. Most of the place was packed, even on a chilly night in the middle of the week.
We were impressed by the food from our first bite of chewy bread, which arrived with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Our appetizer, the carpaccio de manzo, confirmed that we were in for a fun night, food-wise. Limoncello’s menu tends toward the dramatic, both visually and in terms of flavor, and the carpaccio was a gorgeous plate.
Thinly sliced rounds of filet mignon, carefully arranged, were drizzled with mustard aioli and topped with capers, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and a sprinkling of microgreens.
The meat and capers pairing is classic, and here, the quality of the ingredients and proportion of capers-to-meat-to-cheese was a good one. We liked the mustard-y sauce, too, but might have used a slightly lighter hand. It was strong enough to overpower the meat in some bites.
A swordfish entrée–Pesce Spada–was appealing, though unexpected in some ways. The fish was cut thinner than we expected: instead of the big, thick swordfish steak of 1980s menus, it was less than an inch thick, but cooked beautifully.
Swordfish, especially when cooked nicely, can stand alone, but this one came with a sauce that, like the rest of the meal, was powerful in terms of flavor and optics. The sauce–roasted tomatoes and garlic, capers, olives and oregano–was chunky but smoothly balanced, with flashes of acidity and brine. Scooped over the fish and a swirl of squid ink linguine, it became the centerpiece of the dish.
In a meal full of thrilling entrees, the Paccheri Medusa stood out as especially exciting. Large tubes of pasta, cooked to a toothy al dente, were looped on a rectangular plate, like a ruffled ribbon, and topped with one of the most interesting tomato sauces we’ve tried.
At first glance, it looked something like a standard red sauce topped with large lumps of crab. But it was much more: This version also featured whole cherry tomatoes and smaller pieces of sea urchin. On top, lemon zest added acidity, and a sprinkle of spicy breadcrumbs incorporated crunch and heat. A drizzle of chili-infused olive oil, recommended by our waitress, increased the spicy factor.
The urchin was the kicker; it’s why we ordered the dish. Though its subtly sweet taste was somewhat masked by the intensity of the tomato and chili oil, the urchin’s creamy texture gave the sauce a silkiness that we loved.
Overall, we were impressed by the service. The hostess was professional and our waitress was smart and well-versed in the menu, cocktail list and wine list.
She was attentive at the right times, and at the end of the meal, we realized that required some real effort on her part; the rest of her tables were located in the room next to ours.
Limoncello touts itself as a wine bar but it also has an enticing cocktail list, including the house cocktail, a frothy and likable concoction of the restaurant’s namesake liqueur and Tito’s Vodka.
Its wine bar designation spills over to the decor–bottle-filled shelves line some walls–and the restaurant has a decent wine list, though wine snobs who value esoteric finds might not be overly excited with the by-the-glass list that includes a lot of familiar big-brand winery names (Chateau Ste. Michelle, Adelsheim, Louis Jadot).
Because we were eating fish, we opted for a pair of Pinot Noirs–Louis Jadot and Erath–and both proved to be workable matches for the dishes. However, though the two wines were the same price on the menu (and are in the same price bracket in local stores), they weren’t quite equal in the glass: We received a noticeably larger pour of Louis Jadot than Erath.
Would we normally notice this? Probably not. But because the staff’s attention to detail was strong overall, the discrepancy stood out as an anomaly.
For dessert, we opted for affogato, a combination of espresso, Sambuca and vanilla gelato built at the table in a chilled metal martini glass. Though we wished we’d waited for the flavors to meld a bit before taking a bite–that first spoonful of straight Sambuca was bracing–it was an appropriately sophisticated and delicious way to finish the meal.
Or, rather, almost finish. Our final sips were from a trio of tiny ceramic cups holding Limoncello’s three flavors of of its signature liqueur.
The first was regular limoncello, a more-sweet-than-tart sip of lemon. The second was vanilla-infused hazelnut crema and the third, a chocolaty pool of Nutella ‘cello. Our favorite was the crema but your mileage may vary. All three were lovely and we liked having the option to try them all in the flight.
Locust Point feels like an exciting part of town these days, with lots of new development. It shares a vibe with its neighbor across the water, Harbor East.
Limoncello, with its seductive menu, appealing space and well-trained staff, fits with that scene. It delivers an experience worthy of special occasions, but given its neighborhood, I expect it’ll also be a go-to spot for everyday dinners as well. For weeknight fare, the local clientele might opt for something less extravagant than sea urchin and martinis. The menu offers simpler salads and pastas alongside its more dramatic dishes.
Though, if pressed, I could make a case for that sea urchin any night of the week. And there’s certainly no reason to wait for a special occasion to tuck into a flight of limoncello.
Limoncello, 900 E. Fort Ave., Suite 101, Baltimore, (443) 708-1540, limoncellobaltimore.com
Final Grade: A-
Bottom Line: Limoncello, which opened in Locust Point last October, offers a dramatic menu of Italian fare served by a well-trained and knowledgeable staff
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