Tourists may think Baltimore's most noteworthy culinary achievements are crab cakes and the food in Little Italy, but local foodies point to Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman's restaurants as proof that their city has sophisticated eating places to rival any in the country.
Now diners will have an ambitious new restaurant and upscale wine bar to try when the couple's latest venture, a Northern Italian restaurant called Cinghiale (pronounced ching-GYAH-lay), opens across Lancaster Street from their signature establishment, Charleston.
The couple's Charleston Group also owns Pazo, a Mediterranean restaurant at the edge of Fells Point, and the French restaurant Petit Louis in Roland Park.
Cinghiale, which Foreman says will open next month - barring "unforeseen events," will be a combination of an enoteca, a place to drink wine, and an osteria, or tavern.
The Charleston Group's version of the latter is a tavern in name only. The osteria will be the dressier dining room of the restaurant, decked out in mahogany, leather banquettes and white tablecloths. Architect Patrick Sutton, who worked with the couple on Pazo and the redo of Charleston, is Cinghiale's designer, taking a space that is grand in scale (some 9,000 square feet) and creating an atmosphere that allows for different kinds of dining.
Stefano Frigerio, a native of Italy who got his culinary training there, will be Cinghiale's executive chef. He worked as senior sous chef at the high-end Italian restaurant Maestro in McLean, Va., before coming to Baltimore.
Both Foreman and Wolf doubt that Cinghiale will siphon off customers from either of their other downtown restaurants, even though the three are so close to each other.
The three are completely different dining experiences, they say. Charleston specializes in contemporary American cuisine with a Southern accent. Pazo is more Mediterranean peasant food, while Cinghiale's menu will be traditional Northern Italian.
"It's as simple as the difference between olive oil and butter," Foreman says.
A preliminary list of menu items provided by the Charleston Group includes "Il Prosciutto di Cinghiale: wild boar prosciutto, preserved forest mushrooms, grilled crostini; Le Melanzane: Eggplant Parmigana XXI Century, Reggiano Fonduta; and Il Maialino: spit roasted suckling pig, pancetta & white beans fricassee, marjoram."
Frigerio's personal recipes will also be on the menu, as well as full and half orders of pasta.
"From the first tasting [Frigerio] did for Cindy and me, we found his palate very similar to ours," says Foreman. "His superb skills complement mine, which made him an excellent choice for chef of Cinghiale."
The menu is all Frigerio's, says Wolf, who adds that she will be across the street (at Charleston) if the new chef needs her. "I'm a good businesswoman, and I can assist him in the [practical things]. He's very creative, and doesn't need any help with that. He grew up in Italy, and it's a personal cuisine for him."
Cynthia Glover, a former restaurant critic for Baltimore magazine who now has her own marketing company, says Foreman and Wolf's restaurants raise the bar for Baltimore dining. "That makes all restaurants work a little harder to compete, which is great news for those of us who love to dine out."
Said Marty Katz, the Baltimore editor of the Zagat restaurant guide: "This is a step up for Baltimore dining. Maestro is a very serious restaurant."
Local restaurant consultant Diane Feffer Neas remembers fondly when downtown Baltimore used to be a fine-dining destination. "It's a big uphill struggle for restaurants these days," she says. She thinks Cinghiale will be an excellent addition to the restaurant scene east of the Inner Harbor, which includes the Oceanaire Seafood Room, Lebanese Taverna and Roy's.
Foreman began developing Cinghiale's wine list more than a year ago, concentrating on wines from Northern and Central Italy. The restaurant will offer some 400 labels and 40 wines by the glass. There will also be several flights, or small servings, of three to five wines daily.
Customers will enter through the enoteca, which Foreman says he hopes will get people involved with wine "in a fun, unscary way."
For more serious dining, customers will continue into the osteria, where entrees will be priced from $12 to $35. Seating in the restaurant is available for 208 guests, with 26 seats at the bar and outdoor seating for 40.
Unlike the Charleston Group's other two downtown restaurants, Cinghiale will be open daily for lunch as well as dinner. A late-night menu will be available Friday and Saturday until 1 a.m.
Cinghiale (pronounced "ching-GYAH-lay," means "wild boar" in Italian)
Opens next month at 822 Lancaster St., Harbor East
lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner, Sunday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m., late-night menu until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Patrick Sutton & Associates