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Entries in Baltimore (6)


Wit and Wisdom - Michael Mina does Modern American in Baltimore's East Harbor

*Post by Mark.

On our sole day in Baltimore, we managed to squeeze in a lunchtime trip to Michael Mina's Wit & Wisdom, located in the stunning Four Seasons Hotel just east of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The menu under executive chef Benjamin Lambert, spins classic American tavern fare into the realm of fine dining. The food and service are premium, though diners may find the prices to be a little more fine dining and a little less tavern. 



The beatiful dishes, crafted using locally-sourced ingredients share the spotlight with the restaurant's interior design. The sprawling, gorgeous restaurant has a hip but cozy feel to it, like eating at your (very) rich best friend’s house. Helping the open feel of the interior are the picture windows offering a really lovely view of the harbor.



It was only Monday lunch, but I decided to crack open the libation menu anyway - a 17-page document that is more than just a list of spirits - it's a mission statement. Ingredients are all made in house, premium small-batch spirits are favored, and the beer list celebrates the best of the mid-Atlantic, with great beers from breweries like Dogfish Head and Victory having never strayed far from I-95 on their journey to the bar. At happy hour there are even National Bohemians (the unofficial beer of Baltimore, aka Natty Boh) for only $1.88.

I had difficulty saying no to the Sticky Wicket (below), a dark glass of Jim Beam, Fernet Branca, Smoked Maple Syrup and soda stirred and served over ice and an orange peel. After a few bad experiences with Fernet cocktails earlier in our trip, this smoky concoction paid full tribute to my favorite amaro.



The smoked house-made ricotta (below) was an excellent starter. A simple arrangement of ember-roasted eggplant, whiskey barrel vinegar and black walnuts helped provide some depth to the fresh, clean taste of the creamy cheese.



Our table shared the lobster corndogs (below). Served with a whole grain mustard crème fraiche, the bite-sized poppers were as delicious as they were cute - the light breading highlighted the sweet succulence of the crustacean.



The toasted peanut soup (below) proved another great starter as the server poured the soup into a bowl coated with sorghum marshmallow and garnished with crispy chicken cracklins. All together they made a rich, toasty and textured first course.



For entrees, W&W categorizes all the options into one of 4 protein sections: fresh-cracked Maryland blue crab, Chesapeake rockfish, organic chicken and Maryland Piedmont Ridge beef. Each of the sections offers 3 different preparations from which to choose - a great way to provide a little diversity on the menu without forcing the kitchen to prep a dozen different types of meat and seafood. 

From the beef section, we selected the shaved roast beef salad (below), with crunchy potatoes, creamy horseradish sauce, and smoky blue cheese, sort of a deconstruction on the classic roast beef sandwich, with the potatoes subbing in for the bread. The classic combination of flavors was really tasty, if on the light side.



From the rockfish section, we got a straightforward but glorious beer-battered rockfish sandwich (below), with shredded cabbage slaw and whole grain mustard. The batter was perfect, light, crispy and appropriately beer-flavored, and the fish was cooked nicely. The copious amounts of boardwalk fries were pretty good as well.



Every time we're back in Baltimore I always find something new that adds to the city's charm. Wit and Wisdom certainly fits that bill. I'm already looking forward to what we discover on our next visit. 

Wit & Wisdom Tavern on Urbanspoon


A Belated Blogiversary Best of 2010

*Post by Mark & Angela.

One whole year. A year since we started this little experiment of a blog, a year since we took our food game to the next level. Loyal followers of the blog have stuck with us since our ugly layout over at blogspot, and may have noticed a slight evolution in picture-taking (we're still figuring out how this thing works). With this post, we'll have put up 100 recipe posts and a 150 restaurant posts. Not too shabby for our first year.

In that year, we've switched coasts, moving from DC to LA. We've also made a lot of really good friends through blogging, and had a handful of mind-blowing meals, some great ones, some good ones... and a few duds.

But today, as we look back on 2010 - our first year of blogging - let's focus on what was great (like this seared foie gras from Proof in DC, below). Ready?



Best Unblogged Meals

Not every meal lends itself to being blogged. Sometimes toting a camera is inappropriate. Sometimes, you - err... forget said camera at home. 

The former was the case when Angela toured through Chef Keller's 9-course menu at Per Se, and the latter was true when we found ourselves at DC's classy cafe Palena, sans camera. The fried marrow at Per Se blew Angela's mind and the Roast Chicken (crappy iPhone picture below) at Palena was arguably the best Mark had ever tasted.



Everyone knows the old adage, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Well, if you're a food-blogger and you don't take a picture of it... did you even eat it at all? When it's become your hobby to obsessively take pictures of everything you eat, the answer is sadly not as obvious as you might think.

Best Pizza

Ah... a subject very dear to our hearts. Let's start with the runner-ups - our two favorite DC-area pizzerias: Taking the DC crown by a thin slice of pepperoni is 2 Amys (also unblogged) whose Neapolitan pies are almost perfect. Pizzeria Orso wasn't that far off, (Orso's meat-heavy Giamette below) with their volcanic brick-oven churning out pizzas almost identical to 2 Amys. 



A New York trip enabled us to check out the pies (and super long lines) at Grimaldi's, but the real winner in 2010 comes from the birthplace of 'Apizza': New Haven, CT. At Pepe's we were treated to some of the finest, most perfect pizza we'd ever tasted. It wasn't just the best pizza we'd eaten in 2010, it was probably the best pizza we've ever eaten.

Best Cheesesteak

This section exists only because we were lucky enough to make a few summer trips to sunny Philadelphia in 2010. Mark posted not one but two extensive reviews of the best cheesesteaks in town. The winner turned out to be John's Roast Pork (below), whose steak sandwich is even better then the pork it built its namesake on.



Earning points for creativity is Jose Andres with Minibar's "Philly cheesesteak" (below), which has a clever and delicious spin on the Philly classic (the 'whiz' is in the middle!).


Hottest Food

You can't have a 'hottest' section without a hat tip to the Thais. At Pa-Ord, Angela found out the hard way just how much spice can go into dish. The boat noodles at Pa-Ord were an easy choice for runner-up. More on them in a minute.

The winner was a concoction of our own, in which we loaded a curry with Ghost Pepper. The best part was that video-taped our friend eating an entire plate of the hot-as-lava curry:



Best Burger

While we have to give a nostalgic mention to our favorite DC burger franchise, Ray's Hell Burger, the winner was an easy choice. Oaks Gourmet's burger (below) comes stacked with black forest bacon, taleggio cheese, red onion, arugula and a jalapeno-pineapple compote. Burger chains, take note - this is how a burger should be done.



Best Sandwich

Our Los Angeles adventures have already made us huge fans of the sandwich shop around the corner, All About the Bread and its fresh baked, crispy-on-the-outside bread. But, aside from all the delicious burgers and cheesesteaks we've eaten this year, the best thing we ate between two slices of bread were the amazing Italian sandwiches (below) at Di Pasquales in Baltimore.



Best Cheap Eats

Nothing beats a great meal that doesn't break the bank. Any short list would have to include Vietnamese sandwich at the DC-area Bánh Mì DC Sandwich, the mouth-numbing mapo tofu at DC's Great Wall, the aforementioned sandwiches from Charm City's Di Pasquales, Ethiopian delicacies from Lalibela, a Luchador-themed taco shop in San Diego and delicious new-wave tacos from Los Angeles' very own Tinga Buena (below)... which, truth be told, aren't even that cheap compared to most taquerias. But this is our list, so be quiet.



Once again, a little Thai hole-in-the-wall just outside of Hollywood has stolen our hearts and left us our wallets. Not only did those spicy boat noodles (below) at Pa-Ord make an impression on us heat-wise, but entrees at this authentic Thai eatery are mostly $6 or $7. 



Best Dessert

A few desserts stand out above the rest. Osteria Mozza's trio of gelatos, the Tre Gelati Misti nearly stole the show from an already amazing dinner. The 'Kit Kat Bar' (below, left) was a memorable meal-ender at Michel Richard's Central in DC. And that's olive oil ice cream melting over the Chocolate Cream dessert (below, right) at DC's Equinox, but it's the chocolate and coffee granules that made it a textural treat...



But the big winner was a subtle dessert that achieved the impossible. This one got Angela, a notorious dessert-skipper with no sweet tooth, to fall in love with dessert. The bacon-seared pound cake at Eola combines an artful presentation with subtle savory flavors. Served over a delicious bacon anglaise, the pound cake is topped with berries, herbs and a cucumber-basil ice cream.


Best Meal At Home 

We love to cook, too. And by 'we,' we mean 'Angela.' Mark has been on the receiving end of more home-cooked food then he deserves. They can't all be winners, but some meals have stuck in our minds longer then others. Take for instance Angela's Chicken Adobo (below), or that one time that the gnocchi turned out the way it was supposed to. 



Angela's Beer Can Chicken (below) combined two things we're passionate about (poultry and beer) to great effect. And we may be trying to forget the finale of the show 'Lost,' but we won't soon forget the dorky-as-all-get-out 'Lost'-Themed Dinner we prepared for the final season's premiere.



But the most memorable meal may have to be our first foray into homemade pasta making, when Angela magically turned hours of frustrating labor into some of the best pasta we've ever had. Angela's Butternut Squash Ravioli with Butter and Sage (below) melted in our mouths. Sure, things tend to taste better when you've slaved over them yourself, but this is a dish I'd be happy ordering anywhere.



Favorite Restaurant Experience

Because it's not just about the food, sometimes service and atmosphere can contribute as much or more to the overall experience. It was pretty awe-inspiring just to be in the house that Ripert built at Le Bernardin and to experience seamless three-Michelin star service. At Baltimore's Woodberry Kitchen (below) we discovered just how far a concept and environment could take an already great meal. 



We left San Diego unable to talk about anything besides the fantastic food, service and experience we'd had at Whisknladdle, and had memorable experiences at Chef Byron Brown's Artisa Kitchen in DC and Thursday night Big Fat Greek Supper at LA's Papa Cristos.

But the ultimate dining experience this year was our trip to Jose Andres' Minibar in DC - a six-seat bar where a team of chefs concoct a series of dishes before your eyes with mind-blowing molecular technique. We enjoyed thirty courses in all, like the maki-style, rolled 'Guacamole' (below, left) or the 'Tzatziki' (below, right) created by dropping greek yogurt in liquid nitrogen.



Best Food

Experience-wise nothing tops Minibar, whose food was still amongst some of the best we've tasted over the course of 2010. We also can't leave out Le Bernardin or Per Se. Other close-to-perfect meals, like our memorable trip to DC's Eola, just seemed to have the food-ordering gods looking out for us. We can't leave out our new favorite LA restaurant, Fraiche (Chef Ben Bailly's veal tartare below) after an incredible Christmas evening dinner with family.



But the big grand prize winner of the year goes to Komi, DC's top-rated restaurant for very good reason. Weeks of busy signals finally yielded a reservation, and our treat was a 20-course Greek-inspired menu, crafted by the masterful hands of Chef Johnny Monis. Komi doesn't allow pictures, but we still vividly recall every dish that - arranged in a journey that culminated with homemade pastas and a feast of slow-roasted goat shoulder - is still something we dream about. 

Thank you all for sticking with us this year! We're looking forward to another year of eating great food and meeting wonderful people. 2011 is sure to be even better then 2010.


Baltimore: Meli

*Post by Mark.

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.


Meli Patisserie and Bistro on Urbanspoon


Baltimore: Woodberry Kitchen

*Post by Mark.

Great food is often a collaboration of all the senses, favorably colored by the memorable experiences of our youth. Your mother's warm brownies, the fresh crabs you caught during your first family vacation to the beach, that old pizza dive you used to terrorize once you got your license. Years later, the actual food from those food memories doesn't always live up to itself. It wasn't the pizza that stood out, it was the experience that you remember so fondly. And that is where the senses come in. So much of what we taste when we dine out is flavored by ambience, decor, service - even the way food is described to us hues our experience.

Baltimore's Woodberry Kitchen is the sum of all those parts. Sure, the food is great and there's a highlight on local and sustainable farm-fresh ingredients, but Woodberry Kitchen elevates its great food into a quintessential dining experience that appeals to all of the senses.



Visually, the dining area is an architectural delight. Exposed brick reaches towards the tall ceilings of this historic mill where light streams into the restaurant through lofted windows. The restaurant is a comfortable, rustic and casual sort of elegant. The servers were uniformly hip, all boasting an extensive knowledge of the menu with a focus on the farms providing ingredients for our feast. It's no wonder Bon Appetit magazine named this one of the country's ten best new restaurants in 2009.



Our bread and drinks soon arrived. Crisp on the outside and moist on the inside, the bread (below, left) tasted fresh from the oven while our drinks offered clever spins on the classics. The Gov't Mule (below, right) is what you get when you make a Moscow Mule with Prairie Organic Vodka, house-made ginger beer, and lime-ginger syrup. Served in copper mug, it offers up folksy goodness with a hard-edge, much like the Allman Brothers side project its name pays homage to. For its Hibiscus Margarita (below, right), the restaurant surprisingly makes their hibiscus tequila in house, combining it with agave sour mix, triple sec and a sea salt rim for a welcomed twist.



Perhaps my favorite part of Woodberry Kitchen is the playfulness of the menu. Not confined to the traditions of entrees and appetizers, Woodberry lets you munch on even smaller samples from their kitchen with a portion of the menu devoted to 'Snacks'. How about a little Ladyfinger Popcorn from Lancaster County for $1? Or maybe a Smoked Onion dip for just $3? We got 3 of the mini-offerings, starting with the Deviled Eggs, which were served with chipped ham (below, left) for $4. The eggs were instantly entered into the running for best Deviled Eggs I've ever had. We also nibbled on a jar of smoked pecans (below, right) which went surprisingly well when added to the eggs on my own improvisation, and radishes with creamery butter and sea salt (below, right).



In another show of playfulness, my salad was called Adolescent Lettuces - Keys to the Car, Broken Curfew (below). The juvenile greens were served with shaved pork belly, goat cheese, fresh croutons and a very simple, zesty dressing. We whipped these delinquent leaves into shape in no time. 



Angela found an appetizing special, ordering John the Butcher's plate. The plate brimmed with an assorted mess of pancetta, tasso ham, pork belly, chorizo and was rounded out by some Mangalitza Lardo Crouton, rhubarb compote and house pickles. Perhaps we'd gotten a little carried away, but this savory starter cemented our descent ascent into pork overload.  



Continuing my assault on the kingdom of pig, I ordered the slow-roasted pork shoulder (below), with sweet potatoes, kale, and pork gravy, it came topped with a mouth-watering fried egg. Rather than serving 'Entrees' on the menu, Woodberry offers 'Supper' and this rich and hearty dish with its fall-apart-in-your-mouth pork  is exactly what I think of when I think of sitting down for supper. 



Angela stuck with the specials menu, getting the Hook, Line, and Snowy Grouper for her meal. It was served with leeks, roasted ramps, and mushrooms. I should've known she'd get it - Angela is a leek-eating machine. There was a nice contrast between the crisp skin and the flaky, delicately flavored meat. The accompanying vegetables were subtle enough to really let the grouper shine.



We were both full of farm-fresh foods but had to at least try one of the desserts. The Peanut Butter Cup (below) was served with a rich peanut butter cream, dark chocolate, caramel, whipped cream, and ladyfinger cracker jacks. It was just the right portion for a dessert this rich and sweet and I love the simplicity and (again with that word) playfulness of the concept. 



As many things as we devoured, I left feeling like we'd hardly put a dent in the menu. Woodberry Kitchen is also known for their fresh oysters, flatbreads and creative espresso drinks. It's the culture at places like this that put me in the mood to eat, and now that I've been, I have new food memories to hold on to. The food was darn good, but was it the best food I've ever had? I guess that's kind of beside the point. 



Woodberry Kitchen isn't just a destination if you're in Baltimore. As two DC-ites who tend to stick close to home, we both agreed that Woodberry Kitchen alone is worth the hour drive up I-95. If there is a dining experience like this in DC, I would love for someone to show me what rock it's been hiding beneath. If you do find yourself in the Hampden neighborhood of North Baltimore, be sure to save a little time to wander the vicinity of the restaurant. The architecture of the revitalized old foundry and mills in the surrounding Clipper Mill area is as unique and astonishing as the experience. 



Woodberry Kitchen on Urbanspoon


Baltimore: Di Pasquale's Marketplace

*Post by Angela.

Thanks to my love of The Wire, I have had an irrational fear of Baltimore, as well as the unfounded belief that the dining scene there is limited to lake trout, hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants, and crab shacks. While I maintain that The Wire is arguably the best show that has ever been on television, Mark and I learned that the Baltimore dining scene has a lot more to offer during our recent day trip, including ridiculously delicious deli subs (an area in which D.C. is sorely lacking).* For lunch, Mark's sister and brother-in-law, who live in Baltimore, were kind enough to take us to Di Pasquales Marketplace, an adorable grocery/deli offering "everything Italian." Di Pasquales was featured on Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives," and for good reason. On our visit we were able to get a wonderful lunch picnic to eat at Baltimore's Patterson Park.



The store was filled with all sorts of goodies, including kitchen and houseware tools, imported Italian products, and housemade cheeses, meats, and pastas. I very nearly walked out with an armful of salamis and other deli meats, but realized it was not the best for either Mark or me to have such irrisistible yumminess in the house. The deli section of the market offers a wide variety of prepared items, including pastas, pizzas, subs, salads, and desserts (and the mouthwatering strombolis (?), pictured below). 



I got the Old World Italian, with sopresseta, cured capicola, prosciutto, fontinella cheese, tomato, and Di Pasquale's homemade olive spread (below). The amazing and delicious variety of meats dominated this sub, and yet, the star of the show was the fresh baked Italian bread - crusty, chewy and full of flavor, which balanced perfectly with the salty meats. I'm pretty sure it was the best Italian bread I've had. I also loved the extra flavor and tang imparted by the olive spread.



We also got a couple orders of arancini, Sicilian rice balls made with meat or vegetables (below).  These enormous concoctions were not like any rice balls I've ever seen - massive, sliced in two, and very, very rich - Mark likened them to lasagnas made with rice. 



Mark got the Santino, with prosciutto, fresh housemade mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil and tomato (below). The sub was served on the same incredible bread, but unlike my all-meat selection, got a refreshing boost from the inclusion of the beyond-creamy cheese, basil and tomato. We switched subs for a bite or two, but each of us preferred our own choice.



We went on to have a first-rate dinner that evening, and with that, one day was able to change my mind completely about what Baltimore has to offer. I think we may even make another day trip to sample more of the city's cuisine...but I'm still gonna keep my eyes peeled, and steer clear of Hamsterdam.

*Taylor Gourmet is a very good start, but I'd like to see D.C. move more in this direction.

Dipasquales Gourmet Italian Market Place & Deli on Urbanspoon