Nestled closer to the bottom than the top of Main Street in Old Ellicott City, Portalli’s has a clean look to it. It replaced Jordan’s Steakhouse and they’ve given a modern feel. My beautiful companion smartly noted that they don’t pack you in like sardines in Portalli’s so it gives the diner a sense of comfort. If you’re lucky enough to sit near the window, you get a perfect opportunity for people watching too.
Now to the food. Portalli’s menu can be overwhelming, only because there are so many good things on it that you would want to try. It’s menu has traditional Italian favorites but it also is adventurous enough to include some more trendier food items. As a foodie in a small town, I can appreciate having to please both sides of the food spectrum. Portalli’s does that well.
We started with the Gnocchi Poutine which is a fried potato gnocchi with diced pork belly, melted cheese curds, and a red-wine demi-glace. I would’ve liked more cheese curds in the poutine, but everything in it was executed well other than that. The demi-glace had a strong umami flavor that suggested some soy sauce with the red wine. It made for a sauce that was so good I sopped it up with our bread (more on the bread later). The gnocchi was light and done over cooked, overall it was a solid start to the meal.
The house bread is fantastic, some places make the bread a afterthought, but I appreciate good bread. Some people, like my Dad will judge their entire dining experience on whether or not the bread is any good. Well have no fear, because Portalli’s bread is fabulous. It’s like some sort of demonic cross between focaccia and ciabatta bread, I don’t know what it is, but all I know is that it was warm and delicious. It was so good we asked for extra with our actual meal.
For the main course I went with the braised lamb shank. Good choice. No actually. Great Choice on my part. The lamb shank is cooked to perfection, it’s braised and this creates a buttery lamb shank that just flakes off the bone. The Chianti demi-glace is a nice touch as it completely masks the sometimes unpleasant gamey flavor of lamb. The lamb was served with chive mashed potatoes that had créme fraîche in them. They were ridiculous, the mashed potatoes were freshly mashed as you could even taste some slight lumps (which I prefer sometimes). They left the skin on which added a rustic touch to the meal. Overall this pretty much perfection on a plate.
My partner in crime ordered the surf and turf penne, which is a penne pasta with jumbo shrimp and filet mignon tips served in a red-wine cream sauce. They finish it off with some arugula and peppadew, this was also a great choice. The sauce has a warm and savory taste to it that invites you to eat more. The shrimp was delicate and soaked up the delicious flavors of the sauce. The filet was cooked just right and didn’t overpower the dish. Incorporating two different proteins in a meal sometimes can be tough but they executed it flawlessly.
For dessert we ordered the S’mores and Cannoli Napoleon , if there was anything I could ding Portalli’s for it would maybe be the dessert. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good as everything else. The S’more is basically a pudding, which was sort of a letdown. It’s a tasty chocolate pudding on the bottom, with a whipped marshmallow filling on the top. You’re then given three large shortbread cookies for dipping. The whole thing works, despite it not really being a s’more. The shortbread cookie is buttery and satisfying. The marshmallow filling is light and delicious. Because it’s not served warm, you kind of miss out on the whole s’more vibe, but it was still a good effort.
The cannoli napoleon had so much more potential in my opinion, than what it was. The ricotta filling you can tell is fresh and the housemade shells are a nice touch. Rather than the traditional cannoli shell, they made almost like cannoli discs that they served under the filling and strawberries. The strawberries are a nice touch, but the dish itself is kind of flat. If I had to opt out of anything I ordered the entire night, I probably would’ve switched this out.
Overall, Portalli’s is a great restaraunt that would be an excellent choice to take any out of towners who you want to show Old Ellicott City to. It has something for everyone, whether your a fussy foodie or if you’re just in the mood for some delicious Italian food. The prices are very reasonable, with no dish being over $30. For the price and the service you receive, you really can’t get any better than Portalli’s.
Portalli’s Italian Restaurant has been around now for a few years in Old Ellicott City. I never had been before Friday night, and now I regret having not come sooner.
Overall Grade: A