I wasn't prepared to be swept off my feet by Tagliata in Harbor East. It came with so much hype before it opened in early August that I wasn't sure it would live up to expectations.
The new restaurant is run by the Atlas Restaurant Group, which has been successful with nearby properties like Ouzo Bay, Loch Bar and Azumi. Still, I was skeptical since the company has so many projects going on here and in Florida.
Count me wrong. Even on a rainy night, the outdoor, lighted courtyard looked beautiful, and the restaurant redo by local interior designer Patrick Sutton made me swoon.
The rich, carved wood from the former Fleet Street Kitchen remains, but the lounge — with a 1926 Steinway piano and live music daily — and the dining areas have been brightened and are adorned with flowing curtains that provide an air of mystique and privacy.
Neither the hostess nor any staff member offered to take our dripping raincoats and umbrellas. We ended up tucking the sopping items on the back of our chairs and under the table.
Our waiter may have missed that cue, but from that point on, our service was impeccable, with all the nuances you would expect from a restaurant that charges $125 for a 42-ounce prime beef porterhouse.
That's the high price point. You can also order eggplant Parmigiana for $18 or house-made spaghetti and tomato sauce for $16 at this Italian chophouse — and still have everyone treat you nicely.
The impetus for Tagliata's cuisine came from Atlas owner Alex Smith, who said he always wanted to do a steakhouse. When executive chef Julian Marucci, who previously oversaw the kitchen at Cinghiale in Harbor East, came onboard, Smith's vision was expanded to include Italian dishes, too.
Before you indulge in Marucci's food, you can sip on a cocktail, like a Belzoni with bourbon, Cardamaro, Drambuie, honey and a trendy, colossal ice cube; draft and bottled beers; and wines by the glass or bottle.
The restaurant's wine cellar boasts more than 1,100 wines, including many Italian choices, Smith said. We savored $10 glasses of 2015 Massinoti Valpolicella Classico that tasted of wild berries and dark cherries.
There are many ways to begin your meal, from a selection of cheeses, house-cured meats and "crudi," or raw preparations including tuna and salmon. We chose to graze through the antipasti list.
The classic meatballs, glazed with a full-bodied tomato sauce, sopped up beefy juices in a warm pan. The fat orbs were partnered with crunchy, charred bread spread thick with whipped ricotta cheese, adding a pleasing tart element to the comforting dish.
The Tuscan fried chicken with artichokes was attractively staged in a basket lined with a sheet of pseudo Italian newspaper. The tender morsels soared with a swipe in the creamy garlic aioli.
The king crab bruschetta sported a captivating mound of bright ingredients, including peas, mint and pickled Fresno chilies to give it a kick.
Our favorite starter was a seasonal soup. We wish we could bottle this stunning tomato and peach gazpacho for the doldrums of January. It balanced a flotilla of blue-crab chunks and pickled chilies in its coral sea.
The pastas come in half or full portions. Our server explained that the former is similar to an appetizer size. We ordered the larger lobster fra diavolo as an entree and had plenty to share and take home.
The dish had plentiful lobster chunks among the spaghetti strands, which were tossed with a spicy tomato sauce that gave it a tongue-teasing zing. Unfortunately, some of the lobster pieces were too chewy.
The Berkshire pork chop, from stock raised on Cunningham Farms in Baltimore County, was a gigantic, mouthwatering hunk of meat featuring two double chops. We picked a pecorino-black-pepper hollandaise sauce ($3 extra) to bolster the pork slabs.
You might want to consider adding a side dish like the corn polenta or broccoli rabe. We didn't, but wished we had.
The veal chop Milanese was another bold mound of meat, prepared in a classic fashion. The breaded veal with a jutting bone (it resembled a table-tennis paddle) was tender and moist on the inside and was accented with a nest of greens dressed in a light vinaigrette and cherry tomatoes.
We were thrilled with the creative honey-lavender-glazed duck. The succulent, rosy meat slices were fantastic with a cauliflower puree, pickled cauliflower, peach slices and hazelnuts.
By now, your stomach might tell you to skip dessert, but you don't want to miss pastry chef Cynthia Ruane's sweet masterpieces. The tiramisu is a three-layer affair with coffee-infused sponge cake, vanilla custard, cocoa powder and sprinkles of chocolate-filled rice pearls.
The chocolate fudge cake looked lonely on a large white plate. But the additions of cocoa nib crumble, smoked sea salt and anisette gelato were pleasing company.
We welcomed a dish of bomboloni. Sprinkled with praline sugar, the round ricotta-cake doughnuts were warm and wonderful.
Part of the Tagliata property includes the Elk Room, an elegant speakeasy in a space at the end of the courtyard that once housed Ten Ten. You may want to end your evening there, or settle in at Tagliata's piano bar.
Either way, you won't want your evening to come to an end. We didn't.