Restaurant review

Palio offers fresh, vibrant Italian fare at Foundry Row

The Baltimore Sun

If you haven’t thought of Foundry Row as a fine dining destination, it’s time for another visit to this Wegmans-anchored retail center in Owings Mills. The collection of eateries now boasts Palio, a vibrant restaurant serving characterful Italian fare.

Named for a famously raucous bareback horse race held each summer in Siena, Italy, Palio has a sleek interior with bold bursts of color, a contemporary look balanced by old-fashioned strings of lights, the kind associated with quaint Italian villages, crisscrossing the ceiling.

The menu, brimming with classic dishes listed by their Italian titles, is read on digital tablets that bring up photos of items (and descriptive texts in English) at the touch of a finger; scrolled along the bottom of the screen are suggested wine pairings.

Palio springs from the Michigan-based Mainstreet Ventures, which operates nearly two dozen restaurants in five states (a couple in Michigan are also named Palio, each with its own identity and variants in the menus). They have in common kitchens with a made-from-scratch philosophy and a corporate commitment to supporting local charities in each community.

Judging by our server, who could not have been more endearing or more helpful, and the sight of managers making the rounds of tables to check on things, this is also a place that genuinely cares about customers.

The fun started with two salads. One boasted beets that had a terrific little crunch, rather than the usual softness. The other, a traditional caprese containing excellent burrata cheese and ripe tomatoes, tasted as refreshing as a Tuscan sunrise.

Speaking of Tuscany, we quickly gobbled up a soup of Tuscan kale, cannellini beans and pancetta. Thick enough to eat with a fork, this would be a godsend on a frigid winter’s night. Turns out to be just as fulfilling on a torrid summer night.

The hefty polpetta di manzo (beef meatball), nestled in a tomato-basil sauce, impressed with its firmness and flavor. Even the garlic bread stood out for its wonderfully crisp crust and chewy texture, as well as for not being overly slathered with cheese.

I like a little cabaret with dinner once in a while. At Palio, you can get a full production number by ordering fettuccine Alfredo.

Prepared table-side by a couple of servers, the routine involves dropping pasta and cream into a well carved in the center of a large Parmigiano Reggiano cheese wheel. Despite the careful effort, we ended up with pasta that tasted rather dry (the cream barely registered) and had cooled off too much by the time it reached the plate.

More successful was the pizza, thanks to a first-rate, chewy crust you could happily devour without any topping (not that we’d ever do something so tacky). Ours came generously covered with an earthy mix of wild mushrooms, fontina, ricotta, and black truffle.

On my next visit, I’d likely order the chicken Milanese again because it satisfied so deeply. The thick, breaded breast was as perfectly fried — tender and moist inside — as the schnitzel at a stellar restaurant in Vienna. Sharing the plate were hearty roasted potatoes and a lemony arugula salad.

From the respectable wine list, we opted for a silky, yet far from wimpy, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo made by the Zaccagnini winery. (The practice here of presenting the cork in a little glass struck us as a wee bit over the top.)

Earlier in the evening, the bar turned out an overly sweet old-fashioned and a better martini, given a welcome Italian twist by use of the caramel-toned Carpano Antica Vermouth.

Desserts, made in house, included top-notch gelato; a refreshingly tart limoncello bar; and a sinful hazelnut chocolate espresso cake that helped to underline the considerable charms of Palio.

Palio 3.5 stars

10090 Reisterstown Road, Owings Mills (in the Foundry Row center)

888-456-3463, paliofoundryrow.com

Cuisine: Italian

Prices: Appetizers $3.95 to $14.95; pizza and pasta $11.95 to $23.95; entrees $14.95 to $31.95

Ambience: A chic, lively room; outdoor seating is available, too

Service: We enjoyed highly personable, attentive service.

Reservations: Accepted

Parking: Shopping center lot

Special diets: They can be accommodated.

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]

tim.smith@baltsun.com

twitter.com/clefnotes

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