Monday, October 16, 2017

Spotlight On - B & O Brasserie

Not sure if anyone knows, but I've been writing a restaurant column for the City Walker App Blog. The purpose of the app itself is to give visitors a local's-eye-view of a city, so they are able to experience it in the same way residents do--on foot. (Not that anyone actually walks anywhere anymore.) The blog offers a bit more detail; I have endeavored to take users on a stroll through the city while pointing out restaurants along the way. In addition to the walking posts, I have been writing others that put certain favorite restaurants of mine in a spotlight. I thought I could share those here with you.
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A high school project that required seeking out mythological iconography in architecture is what originally led me to the B & O Railroad Building in downtown Baltimore. This H-shaped Beaux Arts structure features a larger-than-life-sized figure of Mercury, Roman god of many things including commerce, communication, and travelers. He’s holding the caduceus, a short staff wrapped by two serpents and topped with a pair of wings. You’ve seen it before, as it’s commonly used as a symbol for healthcare. Except that’s wrong. The symbol of medicine is actually the Rod of Asclepius, a staff wrapped by a single snake, no wings. But considering the expense of health care in this country, perhaps the symbol of commerce is more apt these days, huh? But I digress. Mercury and his snakes are hanging out with an allegorical figure called Progress of Industry. Allegedly, there is a locomotive up there with them, but it looks to me like Prog is holding a double-dip ice cream cone. Mercury is definitely looking at the cone, as if thinking, “damn, why won’t he share with me?”

Look up at those figures and tell me I’m wrong. They’re still hovering above what is now the entranceway to the Kimpton Hotel Monaco at 2 North Charles Street.

Thus ends the architecture and mythology tour for the day.

To the right of the hotel entrance, up a few steps, is the doorway to the B & O American Brasserie, the hotel’s restaurant. But it’s not a typical hotel restaurant in that it’s really really great. (My apologies to hotel restaurants everywhere, but you know that some of you are, shall we say, meh.) Just beyond the front door is the restaurant bar, where you will find the cocktail stylings of multi-award-winning Head Bartender Brendan Dorr and his crew. Honestly, I’ve never been disappointed with any of the drinks Mr Dorr has invented, all complex masterpieces. I am a fan of niche (read: expensive) fragrances, and some of Brendan’s concoctions have reminded me of fine perfumes with their intricate combinations of flavors and scents. I love the Galavanter, made with rye, elderflower liqueur, and dry vermouth, and the Cardamom Daiquiri made with apricot-infused rum and cardamom bitters. Oh, there’s wine and beer too, of course, but the cocktails are too good to pass up.

Before you get too distracted by the drinks, take a look at the restaurant menu. The B & O serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and brunch on the weekends), but dinner is my favorite. The current Executive Chef is Scott Hines, who took over the kitchen when Michael Ransom went back home to Michigan to open his own restaurant, Ima, in Detroit. (I mention this because I feel Chef Ransom is one to watch.) Hines, like Ransom and the chefs before him, is wildly creative but without being weird. Case in point: he makes a gremolata out of marjoram and orange, rather than the usual parsley and lemon--a traditional accompaniment to osso buco, or braised veal shank. He puts this highly aromatic and somewhat offbeat condiment atop a dish of house-made pappardelle with slow-braised veal sugo and shaved Pecorino pepato. The dish--pappardelle with a tomato-and-meat sauce--is familiar and comforting, but it has the added zing of that rustic, peppery, cheese and the somewhat piney-oregano flavor of marjoram...and orange. Pow!

Another dish I really enjoyed recently was the oxtail marmalade. It’s like rillettes (cooked shredded meat preserved with fat and served as a spread for bread) meets bacon jam (bacon cooked down with brown sugar to a thick condiment for spreading on everything). It is beefy and unctuous, especially when eaten with a little of the bone marrow schmaltz that comes on the side (to mimic the fat topping of rillettes). A garnish of peppercress and pickled shallots adds touches of green and acidic flavors to offset the richness of the dish.

I now want to apologize, as I’m probably being a little mean by going into such detail. After all, the menu at the B & O changes a few times a year, and Chef Hines is likely working away on his Spring menu as I’m writing this. Rest assured, however, that it will be full of similar delights using ingredients of the season, and I cannot wait to taste everything on it.

As much as I love the B & O Brasserie, I do have one negative thing to say about it. However, it will not affect you, Dear Walker, because you are smart enough to be on foot. It’s this: if you linger more than a couple of hours at the restaurant or bar, the valet parking charge is enough to cause stomach (and wallet) upset. Better to park on the street somewhere nearby. Or, just walk.

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Posted on Minxeats.com.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Flashback Friday - Coconut Curd

flashback friday graphic
This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on October 17, 2012.

I love lemon curd. And lime curd. Especially if it's homemade. And it's so easy to make, there's really no excuse to buy ready made curd from the store (plus, the jarred stuff just isn't creamy/custardy enough). Basically, any fruit juice can be made into a curd (but I wouldn't try pineapple or papaya, in case their special enzymes do weird things to eggs), so why not coconut milk?

Turns out, it works beautifully. The result is like a jam version of coconut custard pie, terrific on everything from toast to oatmeal, but perfect eaten directly from a spoon.

Coconut Curd

4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup coconut milk (or one 5.5oz can)
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Whisk together egg yolks and sugar until combined. Place in a saucepan and stir in the coconut milk. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, about eight minutes. Remove pan from the heat and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time, until each piece is completely absorbed.

Store in a covered jar. Eat within 2 weeks.
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Posted on Minxeats.com.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bacon Jam at Power Plant Live!

Baltimore-area Bacon lovers should love Bacon Jam, a festival featuring gourmet bacon and pork dishes from local vendors (like Clark Burger and Towson Hot Bagels) plus live music from regional jam bands. (See what they did there?)

Tickets range from $10 (admission to the event) to $60 (a VIP package that includes early admission, a BBQ buffet, unlimited Bacon Bloody Marys and mimosas from 12-1pm, a t-shirt, and vouchers for sampling two bacon dishes and two bacon cocktails), but if you use the promo code BACONJAM5, you can save $5! A portion of the proceeds benefits Volunteering Untapped, Power Plant Live's nonprofit partner.

Tickets for the November 11 event can be purchased via Ticketfly: https://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/1528439

Check out the event page on Facebook, and the Power Plant Live! web site for more details.

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Posted on Minxeats.com.

Monday, October 09, 2017

In Bloom

In November of 2012, Chef Kevin Perry and his wife Cecilia Benalcazar opened Liv2Eat to high praise from local foodies and restaurant critics, even winning the 2013 “Best New Restaurant” award from the Baltimore City Paper. In just a few short years, Perry and Benalcazar shuttered their restaurant....but only briefly. They opened a few weeks later, in August 2017, as In Bloom, a joint effort with new partners Chef Cyrus Keefer and Angela Keefer. Chefs Perry and Keefer had worked together at Sotto Sopra, a popular Italian restaurant north of downtown in an area known as Cathedral Hill. Keefer had been looking to open his own place for a few years now, and thought the partnership with Perry made sense for both of them. Though the adage “too many cooks spoil the soup” comes to mind, it certainly will not be true at In Bloom, where Keefer and Perry will essentially be cooking every meal themselves.

The restaurant itself got a bit of a face-lift--not that it especially needed it--in the form of fresh paint and new lights for the patio. I’ve always thought it was a pretty space, not fussy, with nice details like the inlaid pebbles on the bar and the aluminum chairs, both of which are still around.

When the restaurant was known as Liv2Eat, the menu was short and to the point. At In Bloom, it still has a welcome brevity, but incorporates more of a melting pot sensibility to go with its established seasonal focus. On a recent visit, the menu showed the influence of both chefs. Chef Perry’s fabulous risotto fritters, wee crispy clouds of creamy rice served with lemon chive creme fraiche and shavings of Parmesan, were a highlight of our meal.

We also tried the gem lettuce Caesar with caramelized lemon and toasted bits of torn bread. The dressing was presented on the bottom of the plate so diners can use as much or as little of it as they like.

The roasted bone marrow is a rich concoction involving frizzled mushrooms and artichokes and a slick of aioli. The accompanying toasts are not only for topping with marrow, but also for mopping up the luscious fat that has dribbled all over the plate.

Chef Keefer makes some of the most tender calamari you’ll ever eat, and we’ve enjoyed it at various of his other gigs. Currently at In Bloom, it’s served with Thai basil, chili, and pinenuts; doubtless that combo will change with the seasons. Both chefs’ enjoyment of rustic Italian food shows in dishes like the ultra-light potato gnocchi in a rich gorgonzola cream sauce with hazelnuts (inspired by a recent trip to Italy), and the eggplant caponata.

One thing that struck me about the food at In Bloom is that while some dishes definitely swing toward the fine dining end of the spectrum, other items, particularly among the entrees, seem far more casual. The bacon burger, made with local Roseda beef, is a riff on a classic fast food burger, stacking two 4-ounce patties with bacon and cheddar and adding a sauce more “fancy” than “special.” Though a beef kabob sandwich with peppers, mushrooms, and garlic sauce sounds like street fare, it’s been elevated to sit-down status with a pillowy pita made from brioche dough, cooked to order.

For those folks more interested in knife-and-fork food, there’s also an elegant airline breast of chicken stuffed with a truffled chicken mousse. Because it’s Baltimore, crab cakes are on the menu from time to time. Currently, they’re Chef Keefer’s creation, a completely gluten-free cake bound with shrimp mousse. (Chef Perry makes some dynamite traditional crab cakes, too, which hopefully will pop up in the future.) . This mix of casual and somewhat more formal dishes should help make In Bloom a neighborhood staple as well as destination dining.

While there is a bar in the space, In Bloom only serves wine and beer. The handful of cocktails they serve are wine-based, like the Bamboo Mule, which gets its kick from sake. But the wine list is so interesting, who needs cocktails? I enjoyed a glass of the bright and sweet Pamplemousse Rose, a rosé with a strong grapefruit aroma and flavor that is all the rage in France. I followed that with a glass of Maui Blanc, a 100% pineapple wine that’s weird and slightly funky and delicious all at the same time. There are flights available for those who can’t make up their minds about which wine to try first.

There are desserts too, my favorite being the plate of warm, fresh-from-the-oven, chocolate chip cookies presented with a ramekin of cream for dunking. The cookies are small, making them the perfect size for the end of a meal.

In Bloom
1444 Light Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
443-440-7129
http://inbloomrestaurant.com/

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