The Washington Post

Aggio in Baltimore: Dressed to impress

Octopus, simmered and charred, is both crunchy and soft. (Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post)

Carved from a chunk of his 14,000-square-foot Range restaurant in the Chevy Chase Pavilion in February, the original Aggio was a chance for top chef Bryan Voltaggio to try his hand at Italian.

Introduced in June at Power Plant Live, the entertainment district in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the follow-up Aggio fulfills the entrepreneur’s longtime wish to set up shop in Charm City.

Anyone who has been to No. 1 will nod in recognition at No. 2. The main dining room in Baltimore shares with the Washington restaurant a muted, Armani-esque color scheme, cocktails named after members of the Rat Pack, a welcome of fennel pollen breadsticks, and servers who go about their tasks as though pleasing you is the only thing on their minds.

Outside the entrance, it’s a zoo. Inside, all is calm — and, despite the restaurant’s youth, mostly enticing. Credit for what appears on the plates goes to chef de cuisine Dan Izzo, 29, whose résumé seems tailor-made for Aggio: Izzo’s previous gigs found him in New York, working as a sous-chef for Mario Batali at Lupa and Del Posto.

Izzo was schooled in Italian traditions. Voltaggio, who also owns the trendy Volt in Frederick, has a more progressive attitude. “We meet in the middle,” jokes the younger of the two men.

Diners can choose dinner from an a la carte list or leave decisions to the chef by ordering a six-course tasting menu. Spanish octopus simmered in court bouillon picks up a nice char from the plancha, a process that leaves the octopod (served with its suction cups) both crunchy and soft. Raisins pureed with rice wine vinegar and then smoked lend sweet intrigue to the presentation. Ricotta gnocchi, one of seven pastas at Aggio, continues the brand’s winning streak with noodles of all shapes. A sauce teased from caramelized tomato paste, chili flakes and pancetta drapes the tender white pillows.

Larger plates include cod perched on farro stained with red wine and port; leeks poached in beer and finished on the grill lend jazz to the score. Totems of pork belly and pork loin, dappled with peach mostarda and brightened with pea tendrils, get a nice lift from a minty English pea puree on their plate.

Fronted with a bar, the Baltimore restaurant is stocked with an asset from the Washington venue: master sommelier Keith Goldston, who spends two shifts a week at the Maryland property, where he oversees a cellar of 150 Italian wines.

Here and there, the chefs have tweaked the blueprint to take into account local tastes. Only at the upstart, for instance, will customers find blue crab arancini. “Baltimore loves its crab cakes,” Izzo says of their nod to the market.

614 Water St., Baltimore. 410-528-0200. Entrees, $29 to $37; six-course tasting menu, $95.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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