Welcome back to another edition of Eating Out In Baltimore! This post brings us to the alluring cobblestone streets of the Fells Point neighborhood and one of its popular new hot spots, Meli. Owned by the Kali restaurant group, the Meli is part of the group's budding restaurant empire currently taking over the streets of Fells Point. In spite of being an American Bistro, Meli is Greek for honey, and a touch of Greek influence is felt in nearly every dish, along with a subtle stroke of honey. We headed to the restaurant on a steamy Saturday night with my friend Chris.
The upstairs offers a bar and formal dining area. But we were led downstairs to the more laid-back, lounge atmosphere, where the groove of live jazz (below) functioned as our evening soundtrack. With the chill tunes in the background, we sank into the fuchsia-colored cushions and settled over our honey-comb shaped table in preparation for the feast we were about to share.
The three of us each decided on a $35 three-course prix-fixe, which turned out to be a fantastic value. The menu offers a number of bistro classics, but each dish seemed to have a little flair of creativity. Take for instance the grilled tomato salad (below), with halloumi cheese, Fleur de Sel, balsamic honey, and mâche. Not only did the balsamic honey provide a subtle sweetness, but the halloumi cheese was a welcomed replacement for the mozzarella you'd expect in this caprese-like starter. For those who've never tasted halloumi, it's similar to mozzarella but has a much higher melting point, which means you can grill or fry it without it turning to soup. This halloumi was grilled, and a nice smoky, meaty taste that you'd expect from grilled fish or meat.
Another competent appetizer was the seared beef carpaccio (below), with aged manchego, caramelized onions, and horseradish aioli. We scraped and scooped all the elements together, trying to find the perfect bite, as each texture and flavor was compliment to the next.
We also tried the seared honey powder and pancetta crusted Diver scallops (below), with green apple polenta and acacia honey. The scallops were juicy and flavorful, and a gracious beneficiary of the kitchen's addition of the honey.
And far be it from us to pass up the oysters (below, but not included in our three-course prix fixe) - we got a dozen of them which were served with a Hendrick's gin and blueberry vodka mignonette. I didn't taste a trace of honey in the sauce, and it's here where I realized that chef wasn't afraid to leave it out where unnecessary. Despite the single ingredient's name on the door, honey isn't just a cheap gimmick. It's always used as a compliment, allowing the other ingredients to steal the show.
The first of our entrees was the duo of duck (below), which presented the braised confit leg with honey wine poached pears, duck bread pudding, and orange segments. The acidity of the pears and oranges cut perfectly through the fattiness of the duck, and the duck bread pudding - think stuffing balls made with duck - was an equally interesting component.
Perhaps the weakest dish was the braised lamb shank (below), with a butternut squash mash, seared Brussels sprouts, candied bacon and a pan jus reduction. The lamb was cooked nicely and the dish was executed as well as it should have been. But in a line-up of interesting and inspired dishes, the lamb didn't really do much to stand out.
One dish that really did stand out for its creativity was our selection from the evening specials. The panko and bacon crusted pork 'filet' (below) was served over a shallot-confit with golden raisins, with a sunny-side up quail egg, broccoli, julienne potato hash browns and a shooter of OJ, pureed blood oranges and vanilla Grand Marnier. Not only did it earn major points for creativity, the pork - we all agreed - was amongst the most flavorful and tender we'd ever tasted.
Don't think that we'd be so full that we'd let dessert get off the hook. We started with Key Lime Mousse Bomb - mainly because the words 'Key Lime', 'Mousse' and 'Bomb' painted a suggestive picture of dessert indulgence inside my head. While the mousse bomb was one of the desserts that Meli doesn't make in-house, it definitely provided an interesting texture on the outside. While it looked like glass that would shatter if you cracked into it, your spoon sank into the creamy interior.
We made sure to try some of the house's dessert specialities too. The galaktoboureko (below) really made use of honey as a main ingredient. The traditional dessert of baked phyllo filled with custard came drizzled with a delicious citrus honey glaze - like baklava, only stuffed with a creamy custard.
And speaking of baklava, for our third and final dessert we shared an assortment of the customary Greek dessert, each with a unique little twist. I particularly enjoyed the baklava that was dipped in a coat of chocolate.
Once again, Baltimore has managed to surprise us with its excellent food options, and is now 3 for 3. The combination of perfect location, friendly service, and great food makes Meli a B-more dining destination.