Taste Mediterranean Grille opens in Towson

The old Cafe Troia space in Towson is now a new Italian restaurant named Taste Mediterranean Grille. The chef here, Luigi Palumbo, recently moved to the area with his family from his hometown in Bacoli, Naples, where he ran a restaurant named Ristorante a Ridosso; Taste is his first venture in the United States.

Most of what I know about the chef and the new restaurant comes from Rafael Coppola, a longtime fixture on the Baltimore dining scene who was brought in by the restaurant's ownership group to help Palumbo translate the Neapolitan dining experience for the American suburbs. Coppola, a charmer, says that Taste, in just a few short weeks, has already built up a base of regulars.

For an introduction to Palumbo's "authentic" cooking, Coppola recommends starting with either the fish souffle in fresh onion-herb sauce or the "generous" beef carpaccio, which the chef slices by hand. For a pasta course, Coppola likes the paccheri with monkfish ragout or the lemon-flavored tagliatelle with clams; for the main course, he wants diners to try the salt-encrusted whole fish.

Coppola says that Palumbo, known familiarly as "Gi Gi" (short for Luigi), is also a painter — those are his paintings that are on the walls of the remodeled restaurant. The prize Gi Gi story, though, concerns a dessert that Palumbo made for Pope John Paul II — when it came back, the plate it was served on had been licked clean. The mousse del Papa is on the dessert menu.

Taste Mediterranean Grille is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. The restaurant is at 28 Allegheny Ave., Towson. Call 410-830-4091.

Good food, food for good The way to a man's checkbook is through his stomach, and more and more, it seems, charitable organizations are raising funds through food-related events.

On Nov. 15, the March of Dimes hosts its Chefs Auction of Central Maryland at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel. Among the participating chefs are John Taylor from Oceanaire, Winston Blick of Clementine, Nino Germano of La Scala, Matthew Milani of Rumor Mill and Barry Fleischmann of Innovative Gourmet. The host chef is Tim Mullen of Grille 700.

Tickets are $150 each. For more information, call 410-752-8152.

And Nov. 17, participating Little Italy restaurants will be donating 10 percent of their day's gross sales to the Pierce's Park fund for the creation of a new family park in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Look for strolling musicians, roasted chestnuts and sidewalk espressos on the streets of Little Italy that evening.

Pierce's Park, scheduled for a 2011 opening, will be a family scaled residential park between the Inner Harbor and Harbor East. Parking for $3 will be available at the city garage in Little Italy.

Little Italy lights And if you're in Little Italy that evening, or another one soon, take a look at the strands of red, green and white lights that hang over the streets. They were hung there 15 years ago, and now, sadly, only a few bulbs on each strand are illuminated. The nonprofit Promotion Center for Little Italy hopes to have them fully restored in time for the annual Little Italy tree lighting on Dec. 3 with its Light Up Little Italy campaign. For $5, you can buy a bulb. There's more information on the center's website,

Businesses are encouraged to sponsor a half-strand at $500 or a whole strand for $1,000. Bulb sponsors may donate "in honor or in memory of" a loved one. Lists of donors will be published in Little Italy's neighborhood newsweekly e-letter on its website and on temporary signs hung inside Little Italy's organizations and establishments and at various events.