Review: Chiapparelli’s isn’t quite what it used to be

Chips_DiningRoomFounded in the early 1940’s, Chiapparelli’s in Little Italy is still owned and operated by the Chiapparelli family.  While Marty was a fan of the Italian food and the iconic Chip’s salad starting in the 1970’s (and John starting in the mid-1980’s),  downtown traffic and frustrating parking has deterred us enough that we’ve only eaten here once in the past 15 years about 3 years ago.   Discovering a “Restaurant Week” extra special $20 bargain dinner, we were curious to compare our memories of the “Chip’s” from days of yore with Chip’s of 2013.  Once inside, we were struck by how much it looks the same.  Back 30 years ago, Chip’s interior décor with exposed brick walls and contemporary art was striking and felt avant garde compared to other Little Italy restaurants.  In 2013, the same style is commonly echoed in renovated row houses all over Baltimore!

We browsed the regular menu in addition to the “Restaurant Week” menu while we munched on a hunk of white bread which arrived with olive oil for dipping as well as butter.  On the regular menu, we found lots of old favorites among a dozen appetizers ($6-$12) and two dozen entrees ($17 – $29 which include the Chip’s salad).   Along with our two friends, JT and Jerry, that joined us, the regular menu prices had us appreciating our “Restaurant Week” special.  Diners used to Olive Garden prices might be in for some Little Italy “sticker shock” after discovering that even a simple pasta with marinara costs $17.

 Chips_Calmari2
We started with a round of appetizers.  Marty’s “Calamari Fritti” – lightly battered, not greasy and served with marinara sauce – was quite good.

Chips_SausagePeppers

John’s “Sausage & Peppers” with slices of sausage and sautéed green pepper served with a small piece of garlic bread made for a tasty starter.

Chips_ClamsCasino

By contrast, JT was underwhelmed by his “Clams Casino” with clams so small that he had trouble identifying pieces of clam in the small hills of bread crumbs and bacon.

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Jerry’s Arancine – fried rice balls about an inch in diameter stuffed with a bit of fontina cheese and served with marinara – seemed dry and left him unenthusiastic.

 Chips_Salad

The Chip’s salad (once the talk of Baltimore and a motivation for dining at Chip’s!) was served as a separate course.   Large bowls heaping with iceberg lettuce, raw onion and a couple of cherry tomatoes smothered in the special Chip’s house dressing (which includes lots of grated parmesan cheese, finely diced egg, and garlic and is not particularly dieter friendly!) proved delicious but difficult to finish.  Compared to the more current style of salads with lightly “dressed” darker greens and with a wider array of veggies, Chip’s Salad is still a dining experience but appears a tad pale and dated.  Regardless of appearance, the portion is huge and it tastes good.

 Chips_ChickenMarsala

While Marty had been eagerly anticipating Chip’s Veal Parmigiana, the reality was that Chip’s take on this classic wasn’t as outstanding as he recalled and not as good as he’s had elsewhere in the past year.

Chips_Ravioli

John first impression of his Seafood Ravioli was that he had been accidentally served a large plate of creamy orange sauce!  Not to worry!  Buried in sauce, the ravioli and their seafood filling proved satisfying and tasty (though a tad too salty).

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Jerry judged his lasagna overall was tasty but he wasn’t a fan of the unusually thick pasta.

Chips_ChickenMarsala

JT’s initially take was the sauce on his Chicken Marsala had an unexpectedly sweet undercurrent that detracted from the tasty chicken.  (Later, we speculated if our food would have been better if ordered off the regular menu or outside of “Restaurant week”…)

Our “Restaurant Week” special included our choice of a “mini” cannoli or plain cheesecake; we enjoyed both.

How does Chiapperelli’s in 2013 compare with our past recollections?

With the restaurant only half filled, inexplicably dubious service detracted from meal. We had to share one copy of the “restaurant week” menu when the server never brought us extra copies we requested.  Our food didn’t arrived hot (like it had been sitting around for a while), and wine that we ordered only showed up when the entrées were almost finished even after twice reminding the server.  While the Chip’s salad remains a special experience, the pale iceberg lettuce base looks dated.   In short, the rest of our meal didn’t seem as “Thumbs Up!” worthy as we remembered compared to our experience just three years ago.

All of this combined with driving thru congested narrow Little Italy streets and paying $10 each for valet parking when we couldn’t find on-street parking suggested an answer to why we’ve only eaten here twice in the past 20 years.

 FACTS:  Chiapparelli’s ;237 S. High St; 410-783-7985; www.chiapparellis.com;  Full Bar; Closed Monday; lunch & dinner Tues – Sun 11:30 am – 9 pm; $10 valet parking can be good alternative to frustrating street parking.  (Visited 1/31/2013)

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