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Feb 27, 2009 05:22 AM

Test Kitchen

We stopped by the new Test Kitchen in Federal Hill last night, at the site of the old Junior's Wine Bar / Vespa. They plan to relaunch under the name Il Corvino at some point, but they've been open regularly for at least the last month under the name Test Kitchen, supposedly trying out menu items. It's not like a soft opening, because they're completely open, keeping regular hours and available to the public.

We were given a short menu of small plates, which seems to be their focus. I didn't get all the ingredients because I was too preoccupied staring at my girlfriend, but I can give you a general idea.

We had two seafood dishes. Our fried oysters looked perfect, but didn't get out from the kitchen in time to be truly great -- they were merely lukewarm by the time we got them. Grilled octopus was better, served with a small amount of veggie underneath -- bok choi maybe? It was hard to tell. The octopus was perfectly grilled though -- they hit the sweet spot between undercooked and chewy.

A risotto with king trumpet mushrooms was merely ok. The rice was perfect with lots of big chunks of mushroom. The problem with it was an overdose of truffle oil, which made the first two or three bites very tasty but grew old and overwhelming by the end.

A mac and cheese with pork was the best dish of the evening. The menu calls is "mac and cheese" with quotes, but it's pretty much just a mac and cheese. Very good though.

And I'm still not totally sure what the Test Kitchen business is all about, since they didn't really seem to be soliciting feedback on the food other than the standard "is everything ok?" from our waitress. I gave her some feedback when we left, but it wasn't like we were really asked for it.

Hopefully they'll add some menu items before the relaunch. I'd especially like to see some Juniors/Vespa type pizzas make a reappearance -- those were always the best menu items at both of those restaurants.

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    1. Sounds like they still have some kinks to work out, I have been wondering how the place was. I dunno, I kind of like the name "test kitchen" ;)

      7 Replies
      1. re: hon

        It says Test Kitchen above the door, but above that there is a vertical banner/sign that reads Taverna Corvino. Has been there since the TK banner was put up. Guess it's just not as visible. Has there been any word on Bicycle sister restaurant Ullswater?

        1. re: BaltoPhilFood

          Ullswater is in the works. The building needed a full gut and rebuild so they are building from the ground up. I was inside with the contractor and the place looks like it is going to be awesome.

          1. re: LGood

            I just went to Ullswater Restaurant and Wine Bar - which seemed to open yesterday- with my wife. Overall, it was very good. The service was very attentive, and there are perks; for example, someone takes your coat at the entrance. The interior is a lot like the Bicycle's; there is a lot of subdued lighting and toned down painting schemes. I think that it makes for a good place to take a date, because the ambiance is elegant. The food was better than the Bicycle's. I think that the flavors were intense and complex, but not so much so as to overwhelm the palate. We shared a great green bean salad, in which crispy green beans were complemented with goat cheese, pinenuts, roasted tomatoes, and pancetta (my wife thought that the pancetta was awesome). We then had pasta and scampi, a dish which consisted of capellini in a wine and lemon sauce, capers, and sundried tomatoes, among other things. My wife thought that the sauce was a little too sour, but I thought that the tomatoes, lemon, and capers worked very well together. The "scampi" were perfectly cooked shrimp. We also ordered chicken Marsala, which was served on a bed of capellini. The Marsala wine sauce was velvety in texture and very good indeed. It was nicely seasoned and the wild mushrooms added a nice touch. Furthermore, the chicken tasted very buttery -- I especially liked that! We ended our dinner with two cannolis (a steal at $5 for both). The fillings, pistachio and cream, were very delicate; I think that they were overwhelmed by the pastry. I hope that many people read this posting; the food is very good, the people are nice, and the price is better than at neighboring restaurants of that caliber.

            P.S. We spoke with one of the owners, and he said that the restaurant is planning to expand its menu to include dishes from the Bicycle. It will also start serving lunch in January.

            1. re: fedhillfc

              Gee, that is a detailed review. Do you have enough inside knowledge to tell us if they'll honor gift certificates issued by Bicycle?

              1. re: fedhillfc

                Well, I hope the execution is good, because its certainly not the most creative menu. Scampi and Chicken Marsala? I just checked the menu: Fettucini Alfredo, Veal/Chicken Parm, Spagehtti Marinara, Sausage & Peppers. I guess they're targeting Little Italy more than Italy. Caprese salad in November. Oh well, not what I was hoping for, but I guess its what the people want.

                1. re: Jason1

                  And parking is non-existent. The previous places died there for a reason. The neighbors, old and new, want Baba's Kitchen and Captain Larry's and Hilltop, and cannot afford to support a place aimed at rich people from the suburbs. If they do decide to honor the money they essentially stole by not refunding gift certificates when they knew they were going out of business at Bicycle, holders should act fast, as they are clearly not customer-supportive judging by taking reservations for a time they knew in advance they'd be out of business.

                  1. re: chowsearch

                    Bicycle gift certificates can be redeemed at Ullswater, Wine Market, Don't Know Tavern, and Regi's American Bistro. According to

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