The Little Italy restaurant formerly known Germano's Trattoria is now Germano's Piattini.
Germano's was doing just fine as a trattoria, the owners said, but they wanted to keep one step ahead of changing tastes. So they revamped just about everything.
The main dining areas in the restaurant were renovated last fall, and the menu was given a nearly complete overhaul.
But really, the restaurant's whole approach to dining has changed. Dining at Germano's Trattoria was always a commitment to a full dinner, your basic Little Italy package of appetizer, entree and bottle of wine.
But dining at Germano's Piattini is a meant to be casual, even spontaneous. One of the best things about the physical renovations at Germano's is that the restaurant's interior can now be seen from the sidewalk, a relative rarity in Little Italy, where the front windows tend to be curtained or shuttered.
The former dining room, which was somber and heavy, has been transformed into an attractive and light-feeling bar area, and this is what you see from the sidewalk if you are strolling on High Street past Germano's on a sunny afternoon.
That looks nice, you might say. Let's go in and grab a beer.
(Yes, a beer. That's another nice innovation at Germano's, which has, in addition to an approachable wine list, a very respectable selection of draft and bottled beers.)
Then you might ask to see a menu, and maybe end up ordering up some cheese and charcuterie, which is a smart thing to do. Cured meats like the irresistible finocchio, a fennel-flavored salami, and the buttery prosciutto San Daniele are served in uncommonly generous proportions.
Well, you can see where this story is headed. Before you know it, you've made an evening of Germano's Piattini, contentedly working your way through a menu of savory small plates — "piattini" means "small plates" in Italian — of fried peppers stuffed with mellow ricotta and pungent Asiago cheeses, a simple and heavenly grilled artichoke, succulent white anchovies spritzed with aged white-wine vinegar and superbly seasoned meatballs in San Marzano tomato sauce.
Or maybe you threw yourself on a small pizza topped with wild mushrooms and truffle oil or ravioli stuffed with, say, butternut squash, a mixture of Gorgonzola and ricotta cheeses or — the house's specialty — a luscious blend of red beets and Italian cream cheese.
The idea, of course, is that you'll fall a little bit in love with Germano's and come back. Next time, you can sit in the bar again. And why wouldn't you? The room is a beaut. Original terrazzo floors and copper ceiling have been uncovered, and reclaimed barn wood has been fashioned into high-top tables and the bar itself. The music playing is typically of artists who perform in Germano's upstairs cabaret, and there are two TVs, with volume off, so you can keep an eye on the Orioles score or catch up with Radiotelevisione Italiana, the Italian public broadcasting company.
But Germano's Piattini also offers the option of a proper and lovely dining room, which has been carved out of what had been the old service bar. Decorated with oversized vintage Art Nouveau posters and small paintings by the late Yuri Fatkulin, aka "Yuri the Artist," the dining room is quiet, calm and just right for an intimate date or small gathering of friends.
If you wanted to, you could easily make any number of small plates into traditional appetizers. And there are a few plates that are substantial enough to qualify as entrees. Among these are a grilled whole bronzino and, our lucky choice, a roasted pork shank — listed on the menu as "maiale de forno" — that arrives with a perfectly fried egg perched on its top. Touch the egg with the tine of a fork, and it all practically dissolves, so imagine how nice it tastes on the tongue.
The dessert listing is brief but effective, consisting of chocolate-topped profiteroles, gelati, a flourless chocolate torte and, our recommendation, an elegant poached pear in Chianti syrup. Germano's offers espresso-based beverages, too, and does them well.
The transition from trattoria to piattini has been handled with exceptional grace and wisdom. Good for Germano's, which is owned by Germano Fabiani with his wife, Cyd Wolf, and overseen by Donald Kennedy, who carries the title of "artistic director."
It's no wonder that the congenial staff seems so energized and proud. If you've been worried about Little Italy, go try the new Germano's. You'll feel better.
Where: 300 S. High St., Little Italy
Contact: 410-752-4515, germanospiattini.com
Open: Daily 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Prices: Small plates from $5 to $23
Food: Contemporary Italian cuisine
Service: Cheerful and informed
Outdoor dining: Sidewalk dining in seasonable weather
Parking/accessibility: Valet parking, on-street parking and nearby garages and
Children: No children's menu
Special diets: The menu labels all vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free items. Germano's is a nut-free facility.
Noise level/televisions: Normal conversation is fine in the small dining room as well as in the bar area, where the volume on two television sets is kept off.
[Star key: Superlative: 5; Excellent: 4; Very Good: 3; Good:2 ; Promising: 1]