Wednesday, May 22, 2013

J. Paul's Summer Menu

J. Paul's restaurant in Harborplace is welcoming the impending summer by adding several new items to their menu. We were invited in for a taste, and remembering how we enjoyed our last dinner there, we jumped at the chance to try some of the new goodies.

I feel bad that we don't get down to the Inner Harbor area more often. As longtime county residents, we find city driving to be a bit of a pain, especially in the business district (if one can call it that). But, on the occasions we persevere, grit our teeth, and venture downtown, we find ourselves well-rewarded for the effort.

This particular evening was clear and temperate, so we chose to eat on J. Paul's patio, (as did every other diner in the place). We started things off with two of their new cocktails, the "Oriole Magic" and the "Paul Red Handed."
Left: Oriole Magic - Bacardi Rum, banana liqueur, orange, pineapple, and lime juices with a sugar rim
Right: Paul Red Handed - muddled strawberries, Absolut Citron, fresh lemon, elderflower, Champagne
The Oriole Magic sounded interesting, but I let Mr Minx order that one because I had my eye on the PRH. I struck gold with a light and sweet easy-drinkin' kind of beverage strongly flavored with strawberry. It was one of those dangerous concoctions that begs for guzzling, but sipping is definitely in order. The Oriole Magic was much less-strong and, um, sorta weird. I always expect anything with banana liqueur to taste like that peanut-shaped marshmallow candy, circus peanuts, and it almost did. Not that that would have been a good thing, mind you. We just thought the drink's elements didn't blend well, and the bartender didn't help things by salting the rim instead of sugaring it. Oh well....
Philly Rolls: caramelized onion, rib eye, cheddar cheese and cherry pepper cheese sauce
The appetizers were far more successful. We originally wanted to share the new shellfish bucket of various bivalves and crab with lemon butter, but after we were told the restaurant was out of clams, we switched gears and tried two separate apps. Mr Minx's Philly Rolls - egg rolls stuffed with what one might normally find in a cheesesteak sandwich, served with a pool of house-made "cheez whiz" -  were really tasty. The fried shell was actually an improvement on the usual sub roll (hey, we're not from Philly). Just be warned that this appetizer is fairly heavy and filling, so you might want to share if you plan to have an entrée as well.
Crab cake, Boursin-stuffed fried local tomato, corn relish, arugula and cherry pepper remoulade
Several people - from the restaurant's PR ladies to the servers - mentioned that the new crab cake appetizer was a favorite, and as a crab cake fanatic I had to try it. While the cake had too much shredded meat for my taste, it played well as a soft textural counterpoint to the super-crisp slice of tomato that shared its crunchy coating with a schmear of garlicky and herby Boursin cheese. The peppery arugula and dollop of spicy remoulade added to the lively flavors on the plate.
Grilled salmon, lemon mashed potatoes, spinach, key lime butter sauce finished with tomato and avocado
There are several new sandwiches, salads, and entrées on the menu, including a sushi-grade seared tuna salad, an 8oz New York strip sammie, and Chicken Milanese, all of which sounded tempting. We settled on the grilled salmon and the Buffalo chicken wrap.

Mr Minx's salmon was simply grilled, a bit crusty on the outside, and topped with a light-tasting butter sauce and vegetables. Very nice, but the best thing on the plate was the mashed potatoes, which were unusually flavored with lemon juice and zest. I wouldn't necessarily put citrus on mash, but it worked really well and I plan to try it at home.

My Buffalo chicken wrap came with a choice of cucumber salad, cole slaw, or fries, and remembering the tasty slaw that Mr Minx had with his fish and chips last time, that was my choice. Cilantro should be an ingredient in all slaws, IMHO, and it was as good as I remembered. The wrap was good, too. Crispy fried-and-hot-sauced chicken strips shared the tortilla with chunks of celery, feta, tomato, and lettuce, a hot wing experience wrapped into a tidy little package.

It's clear that the chef at J. Paul's cares as much about his food's appearance as its flavor. How much more attractive than a plain white tortilla is that spinach one?
Buffalo chicken tenders, spinach tortilla, celery, feta, tomato, romaine, cilantro aioli
Stuffed to the gills (I doggie-bagged half my sandwich) we ordered dessert anyway. There were three selections that night - the flourless chocolate torte that we had sampled on our other visit, no-bake cheesecake, and creme brulée. Stereotypically for us, Mr went for the chocolate, and I went for the cream.
Flourless chocolate torte, raspberry sauce and berries
The torte is really too decadently sweet and fudgey to be served in a slice that large, but the very tart berry sauce helped a bit. A great dessert for sharing.

Three cremes brulée: plain, chocolate chip, berry
My full stomach was dismayed to see that I was receiving not one, not two, but three ramekins of creme brulée. I really didn't have room for one, but when I discovered there were three flavors, I ate more than a few bites of each. My favorite was the berry, which had a welcome lightness and fruity acidity. Most importantly, I appreciated that the creme was cold. This dessert should properly be refrigerated after brulée-ing, so the creme is cold and the hot sugar forms a hard, crackable, layer on top. Recipes that instruct one to "serve immediately" are wrong, wrong, wrong because that gives the molten sugar an opportunity to melt down into the custard, ruining the effect.

:::stepping off soapbox:::

Anyhoo...if you find yourself hungry in the Inner Harbor and don't relish the idea of eating at Bubba Gump's or Cheesecake Factory, we can recommend J. Paul's. We like the food and the service. We like half price bottles of wine on Wednesday and half price raw bar after 5pm on Thursday, too.

J Paul's
301 Light St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 659-1889

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