Over the years, I think I've eaten at just about every restaurant in Little Italy. But I haven't been to Germano's Piattini since it changed its name and menu almost four years ago.
The longtime stalwart, known for its second-floor cabaret shows, still offers Italian favorites but has introduced an array of interesting small plates to appeal to eaters who don't want a heavy, multicourse meal.
About six months ago, owners Germano Fabiani and Cyd Wolf brought on a new chef, Spence Lack, who has worked at various Portland, Ore., restaurants over the years. It was definitely time for me to visit.
In its new incarnation, the restaurant has steered away from formal trappings and welcomes diners into a casual bar with tables before directing them to charming, rustic dining rooms, on the ground level and upstairs, with vintage posters and artwork.
We were seated in a first-floor dining area and tended to by a fabulous waitress, who had us wanting to give her a "Miss Congeniality" award from the beginning.
She praised the daily specials so much that we incorporated many of them into our meal. We advise you to do the same, while not ignoring the regular menu.
We started with two delightful small plates. In one, two grilled shrimp perched on a cushion of chilled Tuscan bean salad with rosemary. We would have been even happier if there had been one more shrimp.
The fried calamari was likable for its predictability. The lightly breaded and fried squid rings and tentacles shone with an unfussy tomato dipping sauce.
The whole-leaf, house-made Caesar salad was on the specials list and should be made a staple. The crisp leaves were lightly dressed with a creamy vinaigrette, garlic breadcrumbs and a shower of nutty-tasting Grana Padano cheese.
As our plates and utensils were being cleared for our entrees, our waitress made sure we had fresh silverware. The nicety is so rare these days that it's noteworthy.
Per her recommendation, we tried the fresh Atlantic hake baked in parchment paper. The tender white fish cubes were enhanced by a bed of kale and soft cannellini beans, while a pleasant, chilled tomato salad with lemon and basil bumped up the flavor and texture.
We also tucked into porchetta, a rewarding comfort food. A slow-roasted pork loin, stuffed with Italian sausage, was sliced and presented with braised mustard cabbage and potatoes. An agrodolce sauce gave the dish an appealing, though distinctive, sweetness.
There are several pasta dishes on the menu, including lasagna and gnocchi with Gorgonzola cream sauce. We kept it simple with spaghetti and a tame tomato sauce. Fresh grated cheese was all it needed.
Desserts are made in house. The "bongo-bongo" is a traditional Italian ending featuring profiteroles. Germano's airy cream puffs were luxurious with vanilla cream and a generous cap of Belgian chocolate.
The tiramisu was a light, satisfying finish with delicate ladyfingers, soaked in brandy and layered with espresso cream and shaved chocolate.
We really liked what the kitchen did with strawberries. The fruit was macerated with balsamic vinegar, lemon, sugar and black pepper, and served in a brandy snifter, giving it an elegant twist.
Germano's, which opened in 1978, has smartly paid attention to diners' desires for seasonal foods and small-plate options. (The "Piattini" in its current name means small plates in Italian.) Flatbreads, charcuterie and vegan and vegetarian dishes are also on the menu.
Drinks are varied as well, with a wine list that includes Italian and other choices, rotating draft beers and craft cocktails.
Germano's has managed to reinvent itself for a modern landscape, without losing its heartwarming, old-world style.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Where: 300 S. High St., Little Italy
Contact: 410-752-4515, germanospiattini.com
Open: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Prices: Small plates, $7-$13; pastas, $12-$14; entrees, $17-$24.
Noise/TVs: We were seated in a dining room off the bar, where subdued conversations by other patrons didn't interrupt ours; two TVs in the bar.
Service: Our vivacious waitress was an engaging guide throughout our meal.
Parking: Street parking, garage parking, or valet service (provided by a separate company), which starts at 5 p.m. daily and is typically $10.
Special diets: Can accommodate.
Reservation policy: Accepts reservations.
Handicap accessible: Yes, on the first floor of the restaurant.
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]