Dining out for Italian is a challenge in Baltimore--tacky locales, tradition without quality, tired service. Sotto Sopra is above and beyond all of that. The ambience is relaxed and trendy, the music provides nice background without being intrusive. The tables are far enough apart that you would have to strain to hear your neighbors' conversation. Our server (a lovely Russian girl whose name, I'm embarrassed to say, I've forgotten) was attentive and helpful, offering suggestions and explanations as needed. The food is stellar. We split two appetizers, the first being the Caesar Salad. I know, I know--ho hum. But this salad is a cut above. Long leaves of romaine are tucked into what looked like a brown paper bag that turned out to be a crust of some sort--beautiful--and the dressing was redolent of garlic and anchovy and black pepper without being overwhelmed by any one ingredient. add a large translucent sheet of parmesan and a piece of oven-roasted tomato for color and the salad was complete. Our other appetizer was Cozze Saltate al Curry e Latte di Cocco (mussels in a coconut curry sauce). The P.E.I. mussels were tender little jewels in a very delicate broth full of flavor, though the use of curry was done with a light enough hand to not overshadow the flavor of the mussels. For mains, we had the Sacchetti di Zucca con Salsiccia--beautiful little sacks of pumpkin pasta full of pumpkin served in a cream sauce with crispy pieces of homemade Italian sausage. The other main was Spaghetti Neri alla Chitarra--squid ink spaghetti in a light cream sauce with crab and crawfish. The pasta was al dente with a great mouth feel, the seafood maintained their respective flavors and textures and the addition of mushrooms made this dish. For dessert we shared apple pie and ice cream. The filling of apples was enveloped by a thin crust and quickly fried to a very crisp texture making for a very light dessert. The pie was accompanied by a scoop of luscious salted caramel ice cream. The meal was everything we hope it would be and more and we didn't feel as if they had picked our pocket. This will be our go-to spot for Italian.
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