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May 16, 2010

Preakness luck rubs off on restaurateur

Aldo'sSergio Vitale, co-owner of Aldo's, issued a media release about the Preakness after-party. He calls the winning horse "Looking at Lucky" instead of "Lookin at Lucky," but it sounds like there was a lot of wine flowing. And really, shouldn't a horse of that caliber have a grammatically correct name? Here's his report. It goes on for quite a while, but so did the Preakness. LV

After winning the 135th running of the Preakness Stakes, the owners of “Looking at Lucky” celebrated their victory with VIP friends at Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano in Baltimore’s Little Italy.

Hall-of-Famer trainer Bob Baffert was joined by “Looking at Lucky” owners Mike Pegram and partners Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, winning jockey Martin Garcia, NFL Coach Mike Tice, and retired NBA player and independent film producer Matt Othick at a post-win dinner party that included as many as 35 VIP guests and phone calls from around the world -- from people like Oscar-nominated actor Chazz Palminteri -- congratulating the victors. 

In keeping with their decade-long post-Preakness tradition, dining at another table was the production team from NBC Sports. Independent producer and director Billy Rapaport joined the “Lucky” party for a champagne toast during which he told the revelers, “Not only do you know how to pick a great horse, but you know how to pick a great restaurant, too. Congratulations!”

The “Lucky” party raided the award-winning wine cellar at Aldo’s, celebrating their victory with rare champagnes and Italian red wines while dining on a multi-course meal that included pan-fried soft shell crabs, crab cakes, veal chop “alla Milanese,” housemade gnocchi with wild boar ragu, Orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage, among other dishes.

When Chef/Owner Aldo Vitale personally congratulated the group of diners, NFL Coach Mike Tice told Vitale, “This was one of the top 5 meals I’ve ever had. One of the best restaurants in the country”-- a comment which prompted an spontaneous round of applause.

Preakness Day is traditionally the busiest day of the year at Aldo’s, which has long been Maryland’s unofficial post-Preakness dining venue, attracting horse owners, trainers, jockeys and the sports writers and producers who cover them for over a decade.

Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 9:34 PM | | Comments (21)


LV, given the fact various news agencies reported the name differently, I'm more concerned with the other grammatical errors I inadvertently included in the piece--and the flow/syntax issues I would have preferred worded differently if I weren't writing the piece the morning after a tremendous party! Thank God I was a Political Science major, not an English major. Loyola’s Jesuit priests would have my head were it the other way around. But it was a fantastic night to celebrate the victory and Maryland.

Love to see a fellow Greyhound doing so well in the world! Greyhounds and horses -- a winning combo!

There's something untoward going on here, and it's not the grammar. The Sun is a newspaper. Publishing verbatim bloviatory press releases doesn't do much to inform or advance dining for the non-celebrity public. Will the Sun check or seek out opposing views about these self-congratulatory claims for balance, perhaps from other owners? Which part of this is reporting, passing along an email? How are average citizens treated when walking into Aldo's without a reservation? Is the very expensive food worth it? How about we all stop in to Isabella's or Piedgrotta, where they have great food, don't wear black tie, have hosts with attitude and don't have publicists on retainer as does this place? They need our business, and they deserve it. But they don't get ink here. At least the Milan issue is news.

I realize the news release is self serving. (What news release isn't?) But I thought it was worth reading. If you disagree, I can understand that, too. As for the claim that we've ignored Piedigrotta, I wrote about the owner's claim that he invented tiramisu. LV

I wonder what the Jesuits would say about such a statement? How many of the seven deadly sins are extolled within? I don't think this helps Aldo's reputation at all.

YEs, and Isabella's has had fawning praise here several times.

I thought this post was an interesting read from a restaurant insider which gave the public a glimpse into the revelry following a grand Baltimore tradition. There was nothing untoward about it as the writer's connection to the restaurant was clearly stated and even the most casual reader would not mistake this for unbiased reportage.

Sounds like a good time, Mr. Vitale.

Good for you, Sergio.

As a one time press agent back in my checkered past, I have no problem with LV printing the post-Preakness puff piece she received from Aldo's. But someone should tell Sergio Vitale and the restaurant's publicist that subtlety -- and maybe even a touch of gracious humility -- makes a better impression than overblown flackery. Even if the celeb guests were correctly quoted after swigging "rare champagnes and Italian red wines," the obvious hype is hardly calculated to lure new diners to Aldo's.

I agree with MAG. An anecdote goes down better than "aren't we awesome". It's a matter of style and grace.

Now if these guys drank all the good wine..... what is left for us to drink? Sergio....time to dig into your personal stash and get a plate of the risotto ready for me!!! Great job!

While I didn’t expect the piece to run verbatim, as LV suggests, most people will acknowledge that all press releases are self-serving. And if I’m writing them (which I’ve done perhaps 4 times in 12 years), they can verge on the hyperbolic. I’m prone to excess in most things. It’s a character flaw that’s most effectively expressed in the size of my waistline.

If my writing displayed hubris, I’m at fault by trying to express a degree of the excitement that was in the air that evening. It was hard not to get swept up in the revelry of their victory. We all did. My staff is still buzzing about how much fun that night was for all of us.

“Aren’t we awesome?!” was probably how it read, but I’d intended to convey “isn’t this awesome?” And even if a small part of me wanted to say “and we’re pretty damn good, too,” I guess I’m respectfully asking you to excuse a son who is proud of his father’s hard work being appreciated by his guests. And for the cynics out there, that’s not spin, it's just the truth.

However, as to the veracity of the release, my name is attached to it, which means something to me. I’d invite anyone to contact my staff or the people cited and ask them directly if there is any doubt about the details.

Truth be told, Aldo’s is a small, family-run operation. If our reputation suggests otherwise, I hope it’s because we’ve attracted a team of employees who are highly dedicated and professional people, genuinely interested in serving guests well.

For the record, we don’t employ a publicist, have one on retainer, or have any other public relations operation. Perhaps people like Michael Gray are correct and we should employ a publicist—if only to temper my enthusiasm, be more circumspect about what we’re saying and, of course, correct my grammar.

Very careful wording. From Google:

"Noto was with Stanton Communications, where he handled such accounts as the Preakness Celebration, Aldo's Ristorante Italiano and the National Federation of the Blind. "

We're all quite pleased the Preakness is still here, filling local pockets. We understand owner eagerness to tell of good fortune. The point is some may disagree with a newspaper posting verbatim press releases, especially immodest ones.

Perhaps we can focus on getting something good to eat. Some restaurants may wish to focus on being nice to customers who may not own winning horses.

Thank you, Sergio, for your sincere response to the comments of a few D@L readers, myself included. I'm sure it was a wonderful post-Preakness celebration. That Bob Baffert et al had a glorious time, thoroughly enjoying both your food and atmosphere. But a savvy publicist would probably have cautioned you about the over-the-top quotes. That they flavored the press release about the way too much salt does an otherwise tasty dish. Still, we live and learn. And nobody can question -- or fault -- your enthusiasm.

Well done, Sergio. I can be a little cynical at times (I know, hard to believe), but I can state quite firmly that Sergio is a first rate guy. He plowed the sidewalks during the blizzard for the entire block. Aside from the Vitale family being an asset to the community, Aldo's food and service are fantastic. I've never met anyone who has eaten there that didn't have a great experience. It's not at all snobby and their dedication to finding the highest quality ingredients is commmendable.

GAH. This is what really gets me about this site- much ado about nothing. The guy sent Laura a press release, she liked the way it sounded, and she shared it, making it quite clear that it was in fact a press release. Considering the list of attendees that evening I really don't think he was over the top in stating that it was the place to be. Sharing a list of the meals served and the drinks imbibed is what makes it appropriate for the Dining@Large blog.

A few little points- a communications company can also involved. be a website designer, graphic consultant, or advertising consultant. Not just PR.

An "immodest" press release?

...and anyone who would suggest that the Jesuits wouldn't like to indulge in just such a meal (with drink) doesn't know the Jesuits.

Right you are, BG.

A dinner with Jesuits is a fine thing.

Sudden lightbulb--has anyone ever written a Jesuit diet book?

There is this...

My God, the Society can drink. If it wasn't for the lack of sex, I'd have joined that party.

Sergio is a great guy, despite having a pox placed upon him from some granola type at the state house a few years ago.

Hello all

I just wanted to address one of the comments made above made by chowsearch. I am the "Noto" that the poster referenced above.

I just wanted to set the record straight. While I did indeed work with Aldo's on some PR... that was in 1998 or 1999 - well over ten years ago. Sergio and I were friends from Loyola College (um University, sorry) and I had the honor of watching the Vitale family take two abandoned Little Italy row homes and transform them into one of the true gems in the city. And I was lucky to have Sergio as a friend - a guy who while IN college was researching and studying the great restaurants in America so he could deliver a different kind of experience at Aldo's.

So when I was 22/23... at my first job outside of college at Stanton Communications... the firm let me help one of my good friends and his family as they opened their new restaurant.

But ever since that opening year... Aldo's has not employed or worked with a PR representative. So the claim from the poster above that Aldo's has "publicists on retainer" is false.

When I saw the news about the Preakness night celebration at Aldo's, I only had one emotion - PRIDE. PRIDE that the city I love so much hosted such an important and prestigious event. PRIDE that it was one that cast us in a positive light in the national media. PRIDE that these influencers in the worlds of sports, broadcast and business had an amazing experience in our fine city and in one our locally owned restaurants. And yes PRIDE... that all the hard work, risk, dedication and commitment allowed a friend of mine and his family to be a part of it.

By they way, if anyone is looking for a good PR guy... let me know. I haven't worked in a decade.


An alert just brought this page to my attention again and boy am I thrilled that it did. I posted an itty-bitty comment above and, um, trotted away before all the excitement really began. After reading this full thread (especially Amanda's outstanding points; Sergio's dignified, humble responses; and Larry's typically witty, articulate clarifying remarks), I, too, am overwhelmed with the sense of pride that Larry describes -- pride in having attended Baltimore's Loyola University. It is truly heartwarming -- though not at all surprising -- to see fellow alumni: 1) succeeding by putting into practice the emphasis on community, work ethic, and "strong truths, well lived" that permeates the campus, and 2) rallying to support one another when support is clearly warranted. Loyola truly is a top-notch school -- for so many reasons, not the least of which is the caliber of **human being** it attracts and graduates. (...and, please -- There is no can of worms to reopen here.... Not even worms "alla Milanese!" I am not a PR person for Loyola or the Jesuits. Nobody "retains" me. :o))

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About this blog

You are reading the archives. For updated blog posts about the Maryland food scene, see Richard Gorelick's new Baltimore Diner blog.
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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