Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Tavern Room @ Fleet Street Kitchen

The Bagby Group's white tablecloth Fleet Street Kitchen has added a new, more casual, spin to their dining experience by transforming the area just beyond the restaurant's large front windows into the Tavern Room. In this discrete space, the tablecloths and multiple tasting menus that may have intimidated some diners are gone. In their place are bare wood and an accessible menu of small and large plates. While lush multi-course meals of fine modern American cuisine are still the backbone of Fleet Street Kitchen, it's now also an attractive place to stop for a snack of bone marrow and a beer or a light supper of charcuterie and cheese.

Mr Minx and I were invited to participate in a media dinner to taste several of the Tavern Room's offerings. We were brought several share-able items from the "tastes" and "small plates" sections of the menu, and then each of us were asked to choose one large plate or entree and one dessert for our personal consumption.

Before I get into the food, I want to mention the punches, which are served exclusively in the Tavern Room area of the restaurant. Unlike the spiked ginger ale with rainbow sherbet we may have encountered in our youth, beverage director Tim Riley's concoctions are more exotic, and of course, more delicious. We snagged samples of the sublimely smoky "Cry of Delores" (which includes mezcal, apple brandy, sherry, smoked tea, and citrus), and the refreshing Kentucky Navy (with bourbon, rye, spearmint tea, black walnut bitters, citrus, and cider). We found them both to be dangerously easy to drink. While the punches come in large Mason jars intended to serve 2-4 people, it wouldn't be all that hard to guzzle more than intended. [hic!]

Now the food: we started out our meal with samples of the roasted bone marrow, which came with thin slices of baguette toast. I grew up eating bone marrow, and was pleased with this taste of my childhood, amped up with the flavors and textures of finely chopped mushrooms and fennel.

Bone marrow, roasted mushroom duxelles, fennel
The tasting plate called "pig face & pickles" had intrigued me most when I had originally perused the menu, so I was happy to see it come to the table. We had a portion of eye socket meat among the selection of moist porcine flesh that fans of pork belly are sure to enjoy. Acid from the pickles cut through the luscious fat, and sauce gribiche (a tartar sauce-like concoction made with hard-cooked eggs) added additional tang.

Pig face & pickles: Chefs choice of jowl, snout, chin, cheek, pork rind, tongue and ears, sauce gribiche 
Crisp-crusted blobs of soft pretzel encased aromatic bites of merguez sausage...

Merguez pretzel bites: Lamb sausage, fennel-fines herbes mustard 
...and a lip-smacking-good beef short rib glazed with a rich veal jus were also served. Additionally, we tasted the ocean trout crudo with creme fraiche and blood orange attractively arranged on crostini, and a plate of sunchokes glazed with hazelnut butter. While the sunchokes were, shall we say, not pretty, their artichoke flavor and potato texture made for an unusual snack. The crudo was fresh and light and a touch of summertime among all of the more boldly-flavored and earthy dishes.

Braised beef short rib, creamed spinach, red currents, veal jus
For his entree, Mr Minx chose the duck confit, which came with a medley of beans that pushed the dish in the direction of cassoulet. I know better than to ask him to share duck confit, but my husband did offer me a small taste of the tender meat and crisped skin.

Confit duck leg, heirloom summer beans, preserved summer tomatoes, mirepoix, bacon duck jus 
I chose the lamb neck, mostly because I had never eaten lamb neck before, but also because I love lamb. I'm trying to come up with an apt comparison to another cut of meat, but I'm falling short. I suppose the meat texture was a bit like braised short rib or brisket, moist and easily broken into stringy shreds. There was also a nice fat cap that covered almost the entire top of the meat. I rather enjoyed it. It was glazed with a thick and flavorful veal jus that had the sticky quality of a much-reduced stock--a sign that while this is "tavern" food, it's also being served in a high-end restaurant.

Braised lamb neck, glazed baby carrots, fines herbes, carrot beurre blanc, lime, veal jus
The desserts, by new Bagby Group pastry chef Aja Cage, were elevated versions of old favorites like chocolate pudding and eclairs. Mr Minx had the warm apple clafoutis, which seemed more like a sponge cake than the traditional custardy fruit-filled dessert, but it and its accompanying salted caramel sauce were terrific.

Warm apple clafoutis, apple chip, salted caramel, pink peppercorn ice cream
My trio of eclairs, which were freshly filled, had crisp choux pastry shells and rich innards. The chocolate especially was decadent. The orange filling was a bit lighter, and the pistachio (which seemed more like salted caramel to me) was somewhere in between.

Trio of eclairs: chocolate, pistachio, and tangerine
Honestly, as far as I'm concerned, the Bagby Group can do no wrong. We love Ten Ten, eat at Bagby's Pizza as often as possible, and have so far visited Cunningham's three times. And now, with the new menu of elevated-rustic goodies at the elegant Fleet Street Kitchen, we think that they have a new hit on their hands.

The Tavern Room @ Fleet Street Kitchen
1012 Fleet Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 244-5830

Fleet Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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