Monday, September 26, 2022

Favorite Baltimore Restaurants, Round Two

A few years back, when asked about our favorite restaurants, I would usually respond "Grace Garden." GG was/is a Chinese restaurant in Odenton, MD--kind of a slog from where we live near Towson, but so worth the drive. We went a few times a year over a number of years, and we wrote about it more than once (here, here, here, here, and here). Though the restaurant still exists, it's under new management with a new chef. We tried it once early on and it just didn't move us in the same way. The new owners bought several of the original chef's recipes, but what we tried was missing the wok hay (breath of the wok) of the originals. (IYKYK!) Now we have multiple new favorites, all much closer to home. Coincidentally, all three of the restaurants named below are alongside the Jones Falls, an 18-mile-long stream that runs from Baltimore County to the Inner Harbor. Not sure why we haven't done a progressive dinner yet, hitting all three at one night, though I must admit we have eaten at two of them on the same evening.

patatas, empanadas, calamari, et., al., @ La Cuchara

La Cuchara (3600 Clipper Mill Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211)

This cavernously sized yet somehow intimate restaurant serves dishes inspired by the Basque cuisine of parts of France and Spain. The menu is divided into sections featuring several categories of small plates, plus entrees, and one is able to mix and match as desired. The several entrees we've tried over the years have been uniformly delicious, but we prefer to order several tapas-style dishes and enjoy them with one or more glasses of wine, preferably at the expansive bar. While I miss the days pre-COVID when happy hour meant half price pinxtos and tapas and $5 pours of wine, the food is just as good at twice the price. 

If one is merely feeling peckish and just wants a few snacks to nibble with cocktails, there is a selection of Spanish hams and cheeses that are perfect with the restaurant's lovely housemade breads. Also nibbly things like gildas--small skewers with a single boquerone (white anchovy), olive, and pequillo pepper--and wee croquetas made with cured ham or rehydrated salted cod. Tapas selections are fairly hearty and can include tender tangles of grilled squid with calabrian peppers, a couple of salad selections and perhaps a soup, and patatas bravas--crisp cubes of potato dressed in both spicy mojo and garlicky aioli and accented with scallions. I check the menu regularly in case there are limited-time items like sweetbreads, crispy oysters, soft shell crabs, or razor clams, in which case we scrap our regular dinner plan and head to La Cuchara. 

The photo above was taken in the Fall of 2020. The restaurant was only serving hot food during happy hour a few days a week, and only at ten concrete tables set up in the parking lot. We made a point to get there a few minutes before 5pm to snag a table and eat as much as humanly possible. We did this for about 8 weeks in the late summer and fall, until it was too chilly (and too dark) to eat outdoors comfortably. During this time, the restaurant also offered chef-prepared food to heat up at home and grocery staples like toilet paper and bags of flour. I greatly admired La Cuchara's efforts to stay open and serve their customers and did my part to support them. We are so happy to have them back open full time again. 

pasta, whole fish, lamb chops @ Cosima

Cosima (Mill No. 1, 3000 Falls Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211)

I think we fell in love with Cosima on our very first visit back in December 2015. We try to eat there at least once a year, particularly in the more temperate months when we can snag a table on the back patio. In fact, we've celebrated Mr Minx's birthday at Cosima every year for at least the last five, including 2020. 

While we're fond of the location--Mill No. 1, an historic mill building tucked between Falls Road and the Jones Falls itself--the food of course is the restaurant's most important feature. The homemade pastas are a big draw for Mr Minx, and as I mentioned in the last post, I'm fond of their pizzas. In fact, if the scallop and bacon pie is on the menu, it's definitely on our table, along with the crispy brussels sprouts, fritto misto, and whatever octopus preparation is being offered. We normally get one pasta and one secondi to share between the three of us, if there's any room left after our orgy of apps. And keep the wine flowing--but let me have a negroni bianco, too. 

the chef, the shucker, the farmer @ True Chesapeake

True Chesapeake Oyster Company (3300 Clipper Mill Rd Suite 400, Baltimore, MD 21211) 

True Chesapeake opened its doors in the fall of 2019 and got in a handful of months before the pandemic hit and threw the restaurant industry into a tailspin. They closed for a bit, reopened for outdoor dining and take-out, then closed again for the winter. We waited with our fingers crossed and breath bated for a re-opening announcement, which happened in April 2021 and came with a vaccination requirement. Not only was the food at True Chesapeake still delicious, but also the management was smart. The restaurant was our new annual New Year's Eve dining tradition and we wanted to continue slurping oysters to close out the years for the foreseeable future. 

There are a number of things we love about this place. Oysters are the heart and soul of True Chesapeake. The namesake restaurant gets its tender bivalves from its own farm in St. Mary's County. Blue catfish and snakehead are also featured regularly. If you've read our book Maryland's Chesapeake, you know these are invasive species that are doing a number on the Bay. Chef Zack Mills--long a favorite of ours since his days at Wit & Wisdom, and a contributor to more than one of our books--is doing his part to eradicate these harmful creatures by serving up their tasty flesh in various ways. And while seafood makes up the majority of dishes on Chef Mills' menu, he throws non-seafood-eaters a bone or two with selections like steak, roast chicken, and one heck of a good burger. 

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