Monday, June 30, 2014

Soy Sauce Noodles

One of my favorite places to shop Asian grocery store. I love H Mart, but I really love the new Great Wall that opened on Rt 40 in Catonsville. While I dabble in Korean, Japanese, and Thai food at home, my real favorite (both to eat and to cook) is Chinese, and Great Wall (as in the Great Wall of China) stocks a nice selection of ingredients more familiar to Chinese cuisine. They also have a bar at which one can purchase hot foods, including whole roasted ducks, chickens, and roast pork. We've purchased the roast duck twice so far. For $20, one gets a whole duck, neatly chopped into pieces. Both times, I've frozen half the duck to enjoy another time. It reheats really well spread out on a foil-lined baking sheet and popped in a 350°F oven for 30 minutes or so.

The last time we bought a duck, I asked for it to be cut only in half. One half went into the freezer, and the other half was stripped of its meat. (While chopping a duck into umpteen pieces with a cleaver seems like a good idea, every damn piece has a bone in it, which gets annoying after a while.) I put the meat into the oven to crisp up the skin and served it with steamed baby bok choy and fried noodles, both also purchased at Great Wall.

I had never seen the pre-packaged, pre-fried, noodles before. The instructions on the bag say to put the noodles in a pan, add a little water, and cook until the desired crispness. Rather than adding plain water, I added soy, sugar, and sesame oil as well, to make a dish not unlike the soy sauce noodles we enjoy at dim sum. With the duck and the bok choy, dinner was tasty and pretty, too.

Soy Sauce Noodles

2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon dark soy
1 tablespoons light soy
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound pre-fried Chinese noodles (half a package - we found them in fresh noodle section at Great Wall)
3 scallions, chopped

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a bowl, stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Heat a large skillet over high heat and add the noodles. Pour over the sauce and mix into the noodles quickly (I used two forks). Turn down the heat to medium and continue stirring the noodles to coat with sauce. They should start to crisp up in a few minutes...and stick to the bottom of the pan. Give them a taste to make sure the noodles don't taste raw, then toss in the scallions. Turn off the heat and serve immediately.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Fork & Wrench

My father and I had dinner at Fork & Wrench not long after it opened in 2012. I wanted to eat there to get a feel of the place before adding it to the Food Lover's Guide to Baltimore but after ordering what our waiter talked me into (the duck) rather than what I wanted (the scallops), I left the restaurant feeling unsatisfied and probably wouldn't have returned. But then Cyrus Keefer became the new chef at Fork & Wrench and that changed everything.

In the year that Chef Keefer has been at the restaurant, he's cooked at the James Beard House twice. Maybe that coveted award will be his one day.

Mr Minx and I were invited to a media dinner to taste what's been going down at Fork & Wrench these days.

Because I love escargot, and also because Chef Keefer donated the recipe for his escargot buns to Baltimore Chef's Table, I just had to try it. It's hard to describe - the bun is a cross between Chinese-style steamed and baked buns. Almost like a giant potsticker, with its soft edges and crusty top. And filled and topped with snails! So good. Mr Minx chose the Scotch egg for his appetizer and was pleasantly surprised to find a soft-boiled egg inside, rather than the typical dry hard-boiled egg. Not so easy to wrap sausage around a soft egg and fry it while keeping the yolk runny. Very impressive.

One of my dining companions chose the poutine to share with the table. It was topped with a ragu of pork and stracciatella ("ripped" or "shredded" in Italian). Who needs cheese curds? This was outstanding, and hard to stop eating. And the portion is definitely large enough to share.

I haven't had a really good soft shell crab in a while, and the lightly tempura-battered whale served to me at Fork & Wrench really hit the spot. It was served in a bacon dashi with a saute of fiddlehead ferns and porcini mushrooms. Finally, fiddleheads with flavor! Mr Minx had the fried shrimp, which came with cornmeal gnocchi, shishito peppers, and a tomato broth. The shrimp had that nice, er, shrimpy flavor that we like, and the diminuitive size of the gnocchi made them nice and light.

Chef Keefer was surprised that none of us had ordered the octopus, so he sent a tentacle to the table for us to try. It was accompanied by papas bravas, salsa verde aioli, and a pepper broth. Nearly fork-tender and lightly smoky, it was some of the best octopus we've tried. Another dish we enjoyed was the duck preparation du jour, seared breast served with parsnips and blackberries. Unlike the duck I had the first time around at Fork & Wrench, this baby was tender, juicy, and not ringed with fat. And perfectly seasoned, as was everything we ate that evening. Both of our other dining companions chose the arctic char. Served with petit pois, fried batter bits, and a malt vinegar-infused butter sauce, the flavors of the dish evoked a haute cuisine fish and chips.

Finally, we had to have dessert. There were only three offerings on the list, so we tried all of them. Mr Minx's went for the milk and cookies, an assortment of rather large cookies including a snickerdoodle, peanut butter/oatmeal, one flavored with lemon peel, a brownie-like square, and a mammoth chocolate chip cookie, all made by pastry chef Janae Aiken. I had the creme catalonia. Not a flan, nor was it a creme brulee, it was rich and lemony, with a texture like dense pudding. The rest of the table chose the chocolate cake layered with chocolate cheesecake, which was outstanding, but a bit too rich for anyone to finish.

The decor at Fork & Wrench has always been something to see, with it's jumble of industrial bric-a-brac and tools. And now it has cuisine that makes it truly a place worth visiting.

Fork & Wrench on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

July 4th at Wit & Wisdom

Wit & Wisdom is having a blow-out part for the Fourth of July!

There will be foodie-worthy cuisine provided by Wit & Wisdom chef Zack Mills and guest chef Tim Dyson from Bluegrass Tavern, plus desserts by executive pastry chef Dyan Ng. Eats include modern twists on nostalgic staples like Chesapeake fried chicken, pit beef sandwiches topped with tiger sauce and caramelized onions, and bratwurst drizzled with beer mustard and sauerkraut. Seafood lovers are in for an ultra-fresh treat with the chef’s specialty oyster-shucking station, an ode to the local flavors of the Chesapeake Bay. Sides include grilled corn on the cob, Mom’s potato salad, and classic mac ‘n cheese. For beer, cocktail and wine connoisseurs alike, Wit & Wisdom has partnered with local brewer, Union Craft Brewing, and will be serving signature cocktails by lead bartender Aaron Joseph and wine handpicked by sommelier Julie Dalton.

Live entertainment will also be on hand. The Rio Quartet will serenade the party with its contemporary vocals from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. There’s no need to book a babysitter; kids will be delighted to join the fun with an on-site snowball machine, face painting and other activities. The night will end with a bang as the Baltimore fireworks show lights up the panoramic views of the historic Inner Harbor.

Tickets include one featured beverage which includes guest’s choice of wine, beer or a specialty cocktail. At the event, guests are encouraged to use the hashtags #WitontheWater and #WW4thofJuly.

Wit & Wisdom
Four Seasons Hotel
200 International Drive
Baltimore, MD 21202

Friday, July 4, 2014
6:00 p.m.–9:30 p.m.

Casual dress
$75 per person (plus tax and gratuity)
$35 for kids 12 and under (plus tax and gratuity)

For more event details and to book tickets visit,

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ma Peche

The Minx wrote about Chef David Chang's Midtown Manhattan restaurant Ma Peche a few years ago, but the menu has changed since then to a dim sum-style format. Given the menu change and the fact that I had never been there, we decided to give it a try. The restaurant is located in the basement level of the Chambers Hotel. Amber light filters through walls covered in muslin, creating a quiet and serene atmosphere quite apart from the bustling world outside.The old communal tables have been replaced with conventional two- and four-top tables so the dim sum carts can be maneuvered around the room.

Like traditional dim sum, the diner is provided with a sheet listing all the small plate dishes that will be brought around on carts. When a cart comes by, the diner selects whatever items he or she wants, and the server marks it off on the sheet. Larger entree-style dishes can be ordered from your waiter. When the meal is over, the items marked on your sheet are added up and the bill is tallied. Unlike traditional dim sum, however, the selection  is smaller and more eclectic.

The first cart to arrive offered a broccoli salad with toasted pine nuts and a mayo-based togarashi dressing. A pleasant, light start to the meal.

Also on that same cart was an avocado crab dip with toasted Cassava crackers. Hey, it's creamy avocado and crunchy chips! How could you go wrong? The slightly spicy kick helps as well.

One item the Minx definitely wanted me to try was the pork bun, so we ordered two. Slabs of tender pork belly are wrapped in a pillowy steamed bun. The Minx said that these were less fatty than the ones she had eaten before, but that was just fine with me since I'm not a fan of fatty pork. At the same time, the lean pork did not have as much flavor as I would've liked.

One of the chef's specials that we ordered was the lamb noodles. The noodles and shredded lamb are topped with scallions, cabbage, chili jam, and a soft egg. Stir all the items together with your chop sticks and you have a thick, spicy, and thoroughly unctuous soup. The lamb flavor is prominent and the noodles are silky smooth. This was something I could have eaten as a meal by itself.

There was still more dim sum, however, and one must do what one must, so we also chose the fritters and jerk chicken wings. These were recommended by one of the attendants in the hotel lobby and they turned out to be solid choices. Surprisingly, neither dish was terribly spicy, so it's possible Chef Chang is toning down the heat factor for the Midtown crowd.

Since my eyes are always larger than my stomach, I decided to order the spicy rice cakes as well. This dish truly was spicy in the best possible meaning of the word. Crunchy shallot bits top a bed of soft rice cakes about the size of small gnocchi. Underneath is a pork ragu and water spinach.

Would I prefer this form of dim sum over the traditional dim sum found in a strip mall Chinese restaurant? Probably not. But for sheer inventiveness, Ma Peche is worth the experience. I can honestly say that I've never tasted anything like the lamb noodles or the spicy rice cakes, and I'm always quite happy when a restaurant can introduce me to a new taste experience.

Ma Peche on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament - Round One

Round one of the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament is off to a great start!

Four teams competed last week in the first week of the eight week competition, including The Mt. Airy Tavern, The Point in Fells, Bluegrass Tavern and Chef’s Expressions. Each team prepared an original appetizer, entrée and dessert featuring products from sponsors Emmi Roth USA, Roland, Heinz, Hatfield, E. Goodwin & Sons Seafood, DeMedici. Chefs were required to use the proteins pork skirt and conch, as well as coconut water, pickapeppa sauce, papaya chunks, Chipotle concentrate, grand cru and passion fruit vinegar supplied by the week’s sponsors. Chefs were also given a secret ingredient (a different one for each team) during cold prep that also had to be incorporated.

The three expert judges and panel of guest judges, made up of audience members who purchased "Judging Experience" tickets, had a difficult task as they choose winners each night that eliminated two teams. In the end, The Point in Fells and Chef’s Expressions were victorious and will face each other in Round 2 on Monday, July 21th (tickets available for purchase now online at

Guests were also treated to a complementary wine tasting and hors d’oeuvres, prepared by host Alizee American Bistro, as well as a dessert bar and coffee to round out their evening. There was also a surprise appearance by Chef Jesse Sandlin (Top Chef Season 6), who dropped by to sit is as an expert judge for the evening on Tuesday.

Hope to see you all at a match soon!

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Thai Bolognese

In a three day period, Mr Minx and I dined at Bobby Flay's new restaurant, Gato, had a 7-course lunch at Le Bernardin, another multi-course lunch at Ma Peche, and dinner at Harold Dieterle's Kin Shop. With all of that good food behind us, it was hard to come home to a fridge full of nothing. Right away we went to the grocery store to stock up on fresh veggies and dinner fixins. I figured a spicy Asian-style meal would be a good segue from fancy NY food to home cooking, and the first night home whipped up a pasta sauce that was part laab, part Bolognese.

I wanted to use ground pork, but the store we visited had none. Instead, I used ground turkey and made sure to season it well to get rid of, well, the turkey flavor. There's always an assortment of Asian condiments in the fridge (miso, gochujang, hoisin, chili bean paste) so I combined my favorite Thai chilli with basil paste and red curry paste, plus lots of fish sauce, lime juice, and coconut milk powder to make a richly flavored yet light sauce. You could use liquid coconut milk, but I find it doesn't keep well if you don't use the whole can right away. Instead, I always have packets of dried coconut milk so I can use a little or a lot and then store the rest in a zip-top bag in the cupboard.

While the dish wasn't Kin Shop-worthy, it was still pretty darn delicious.

Thai "Bolognese" Sauce

1/2 large onion, chopped
Vegetable oil
The innermost leaves of 1 stalk of lemongrass, bashed with the side of a knife and minced
1 lb ground turkey or pork
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon Thai chilli basil paste (Maesri brand)
1 tablespoon red curry paste (Thai Kitchen)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
4 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons coconut powder
1/4 cup water
Juice of half a lime
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
Chopped cilantro
Thai basil
Chopped scallions
Fresh mint

Cook onion in vegetable oil over medium high heat until translucent. Add lemongrass and ground meat, breaking up meat with wooden spoon. Cook, stirring constantly, until meat is mostly cooked through and beginning to brown. Stir in garlic, chilli basil and red curry pastes, and 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce.

Combine the coconut powder, water, and lime juice in a bowl. Pour over meat mixture in pan and stir well. Add sugar and remaining fish sauce. Turn heat to low. Cook mixture until ground meat doesn't taste strongly of turkey or pork but has taken on the flavors of the pastes and fish sauce, 5-10 minutes.

Serve over pasta or rice, garnished with plenty of fresh herbs and scallions. Alternately, you can chill the mixture and eat it like laab (Thai ground meat salad), rolled in fresh lettuce leaves.

Serves 4-6.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Kin Shop

Back in 2008, in my write-up of a meal at Harold Dieterle's first restaurant, Perilla, I said, "I'll be back." Unlike Arnold Schwartzenegger, I lied about that. I never did go back to Perilla, but not because I didn't like the place. Au contraire--I enjoyed the food there very much. But there are so many terrific restaurants in Manhattan, and I hate not giving all of the others a go. Dieterle himself has two more restaurants, Kin Shop and The Marrow, and on our most recent visit to New York, Mr Minx and I gave the former a try.

Billed as "contemporary Thai," Kin Shop's menu is full of items familiar to lovers of Thai food: laab; tom kha; massaman; chu chee. But that laab is made with duck and is so spicy that it merits 4 asterisks. The tom kha soup has features uncharacteristic snake beans and crispy taro, the massaman is made with goat, purple yams, and mustard greens, and the chu chee involves monkfish and Meyer lemon. And it all sounded so good, we weren't quite sure what to order.

The dish that caught my eye first was a salad of fried pork and oysters with celery, peanuts, mint, and a chili-lime vinaigrette. It was a pretty generous portion, with three large, crisply-battered, tender oysters and three slabs of battered and fried pork, topped with shaved celery, pickled red onion, a ton of green herbs, and a smattering of peanuts. What's the Thai word for delicious? Aroy mak mak! (Very very delicious.)

Mr Minx chose the papaya and gem lettuce salad for his starter. Unlike typical Thai papaya salads that are made with unripe green papaya, this one had chunks of ripe fruit, along with plenty of candied cashews and pieces of asian pear, all coated in a bright yellow ginger-yogurt dressing. Apart from finding the yogurt-y-ness of the yogurt a tad disconcerting, I enjoyed the mild sweetness and crunch.

Having had a large lunch, I wasn't sure if I was hungry enough to eat an entree. Having also had a very expensive lunch, I was also feeling on the cheap side, and decided that the $12 preserved Siamese watercress fried rice with a poached egg and sriracha would be perfect. And it was. I had no problem scarfing down the rather large pile of greaseless rice ornamented with lightly pickled greens. I haven't had fried rice this good since I was a kid, when Dad and I would buy a quart of pork fried rice from Chung's on Cold Spring Lane, douse it in duck sauce, and eat it in the car with plastic forks. Kin Shop's rice had the sweetness built in, and was also savory, salty, and spicy to boot. Really stellar stuff.

Also quite fine was Mr Minx's stew of pork cheeks with tiny sugar snap peas, chiles, and what appeared to be wood ear mushrooms (those snappy, flat, black mushrooms commonly found in Chinese mu shu dishes). The pork was incredibly tender, and Mr Minx was able to cross that particular protein off his "must try" list. While I did love my rice, it wasn't hard for me to share if I got to snarfle up some of that delicious pork concoction.

One thing we noticed was that people around us were ordering lots of food--salads and noodle dishes and curries. And had we been hungrier, we certainly would have wanted to try the soup dumplings, the lobster summer roll, the peanut noodles, and maybe even that incendiary duck laab.

Baltimore needs a contemporary Thai restaurant like this, someplace that's not afraid to experiment with Thai flavors combined with non-traditional ingredients. I really want to say, "I'll be back," and mean it this time, but I have a feeling that the next Dieterle restaurant I visit will have to be the Marrow. Only then I can go back to revisit Kin Shop, and yes, Perilla. Unless of course Dieterle opens a fourth restaurant....

Kin Shop on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014


My family has long been a fan of Maggiano's, an Italian restaurant chain. Up to recently, the closest location was in Tyson's Corner. It's not exactly nearby, so a meal at the restaurant was more of a pilgrimage than a simple dinner out. Last year, a branch opened in Annapolis, and recently, another opened at the expanded Mall in Columbia.

Both the menu and premises are modeled after old-fashioned Little Italy-style restaurants, incorporating tiled floors, checkered tablecloths, and homey pasta dishes into a comfortable modern establishment.

On the restaurant's opening day, we were invited to witness the braided pasta "ribbon"-cutting ceremony before indulging in a complimentary multi-course family-style meal. 

While the menu offers tons of lovely a la carte dishes, family-style is really the way to go at Maggiano's. There are three price ranges, for Light, Classic, and Chef's Choice menus. We had a combination of all three types of dishes in our tasting, but the format was Classic (three appetizers, four main courses, two desserts).

We started out with the Chopped Salad, which included iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes, crumbled bleu cheese, avocado, and crispy prosciutto, all tossed with the lightly sweet signature house dressing. My usual favorite salad is the Maggiano's, which swaps out the avocado and tomatoes for some red onion, but I enjoyed the additional creaminess of the avocado. I'm a sucker for a good chopped salad anyway, so it was hard to go wrong here. It was also hard not to eat much more of it (that's actually a large multi-serving bowl in the photo) but we knew there was plenty food a-coming.

Next up were crab cakes, panko coated and served with a tomato aioli and an arugula salad. It's pretty rare that chain restaurants get crab cakes right--this is Maryland, after all, and we are picky. But apart from the addition of bell pepper and their somewhat unnatural puck-like shape, I'd say these were pretty good. Not like homemade, but good.

Even better were the Zucchini Fritte, strips of zucchini breaded in panko and fried just long enough to brown the coating but not make the squash mushy. They came with a lemon aioli dipping sauce. Hard to beat fried food + mayonnaise. 

On to entrees. Two we tasted were pasta dishes, the Rigatoni "D", with roasted chicken, mushrooms, and caramelized onions in a Marsala cream sauce. Um...yum. Rich and creamy, but not insanely-so.

Then there were massive platters of lasagna. Assembled to order, this dish tasted a lot like the homemade lasagna I made last Christmas. The filling had both beef and Italian sausage layered with pasta sheets and ricotta cheese and lots of flavorful sauce. 

We also tried the Salmon Oscar, asiago- and herb-crusted salmon fillets topped with a garlic truffle cream sauce, asparagus, sundried tomatoes, and crab, with a side of orzo. Again, rich and creamy without being over-the-top.

The last of our four entrees was a lightened version of chicken Parmesan. Rather than being deep-fried, the breaded chicken cutlets were baked before being topped with provolone cheese and marinara sauce. I always thought chicken parm should be pan-fried, not deep-fried, but I did enjoy the baked version. The sauce was flavorful, and there was plenty enough cheese to keep this dish out of boring "diet" hell.

Rather than receiving two desserts to share (since there were too many of us), we were brought a mini dessert sampling that included an apple crostata, bite-sized versions of the chocolate zuccatto cake, pound cake with bruleed bananas, NY style cheesecake, and tiramisu. (Note: this sampler is on the regular dessert menu, but not on the family-style menu.) While I felt the icing-to-cake ratio in the zuccatti was too high, I enjoyed the rest of the dishes, especially the crostata, which is like a wee apple pie.

Stuffed to the gills, we left Maggiano's pretty happy. Nice to know that there's one in the area. Now they just need to put one in Towson or Hunt Valley.

Maggiano's on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Red Devils Cafe at Langermann's

The Langermann’s Restaurant Group and The Red Devils breast cancer support charity proudly announce their partnership for the first ever DESTINATION, DONATION, DINING event, as The Patio at Langermann’s Canton officially becomes The Red Devils Café from June 19th through September 30, 2014.

The Red Devils Café will feature a DEVILISHLY DELITEFUL menu created by Executive Chef/Owner Neal Langermann. Throughout the summer, a portion of the proceeds from this special menu will be donated to provide meals and support services to help improve the quality of life for Maryland breast cancer families. The menu will be available at the café and within the restaurant.

Award winning chef and visionary Neal Langermann is making the bold move to reinvent the partnership between restaurants and local charities. While most restaurants rely on their charity partner to bring them new diners and donate a percentage of sales for a one-day event, Neal has chosen to “go all in” by creating a four-month destination, donation, dining promotion that extends through the summer. His goal not only is to raise funds but also awareness of the needs of those Maryland families fighting breast cancer.

“Everyone has been touched by breast cancer and while we all hope for a cure, The Red Devils is there for those families-—our neighbors—'fighting the fight.' What if you’re in treatment and can’t work? How do you pay your rent or for your medications? The Red Devils provides healthy meals and groceries—essential for staying strong—as well as many other support services. We’re excited to spearhead this unique fund raising event and we’re proud to be a Devils Advocate,” said Executive Chef/Owner Neal Langermann.

The Red Devils Executive Director Jan Wilson said “We began this year with two big funding losses: 50% of our grant support from Komen Maryland went away, and Under Armour’s new strategic partner strategy resulted in our losing 100% of their support. We needed a hero. And we got one! Now, we’re confident we will have the funding to assist nearly 1,000 families in 2014.”

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Fazzini's Taverna

In my youth, Fazzini's was a mythical restaurant. I would hear their radio ads on the old WHFS and cringe at the bad jokes, but the food sounded like heaven to a pasta maniac like me. Years later, when I started dating the Minx, her brother would talk about how great Fazzini's meatball pizza was and his alarming weight gain was a testament to how addictive their food was. Still, Cockeysville was a little out of my usual stomping grounds and I never went. It wasn't until years later that the Minx and I actually ate at Fazzini's and the food was...okay. Maybe we should've ordered the meatball pizza.

Recently, Fazzini's Italian Kitchen ditched their old location and their old-school menu and moved into new digs on York Road. They also brought in a new chef with a more refined menu to create Fazzini's Taverna, so it seemed only fitting that the Minx and I would bring along her brother and father to check out their updated style of cuisine.

The new building used to house Piv's Pub and Fazzini's chose to keep the dark-wood decor pretty much the same, adding some nicer tables and banquettes to smarten up the look. The waitstaff is also more formal and were quite attentive if perhaps a bit frazzled during our time there. I would chalk that up to working out the kinks while dealing with crowds who were equally curious to see the new place.

Fazzini's has jumped on the small plates bandwagon with a menu of snacks, hot appetizers, and cold appetizers to compliment the pizzas, pasta, and entrees. We chose to order a few appetizers and two pizzas for the table. Our first dish was calamari and hot pepper misto. We were disappointed that the ratio of calamari to peppers favored the peppers, which were pretty darn hot. I have to think that many old Fazzini's customers would be put off by such a spicy dish. The calamari, while tender, were sliced into thick rings that were too large (some were undercooked) and the coating was quite pale. Smaller pieces may have fried up faster and provided crispier bites. 

Albondigas con almendras, or pork and beef meatballs, were good if maybe a bit too charred on the outside. I like a good sear on my meatball, but these were black on the outside. I liked the fact that they used toasted almonds in the tomato and red wine sauce, however. It added a surprising crunch to what would normally be just soft meatballs in sauce.

The prawns in garlic-parsley butter was my favorite of the appetizers even if I only got one since there were only four prawns in the dish. Fazzini's obviously has a sizzling grill because the prawns had a powerful grill flavor and, of course, you can't go wrong with garlic and butter, although Minxy would have liked more garlic. Some toasted bread was provided to sop up the excess butter. We also ordered pappas bravas or wood fired chunks of potato covered in a smoked paprika aioli. The potatoes were crisp and the aioli was thick and eggy like crab imperial without the crab. And without the smoked paprika.

The waiter thoughtfully brought the pizzas out one at a time so we could enjoy each one without having to wrestle two large platters on our table. The first, a sausage and pepperoni pizza, had the familiar flavors you would expect from this traditional pie. I prefer crumbled sausage over the sausage slices on this pizza, but there was plenty of cheese and just the right amount of sauce to create the appropriate balance of flavors. As for the crust, it was thicker than a New York style pizza, but not soft like a fresh dough pizza either. In fact, it's possible the dough was either overworked or not allowed to rise long enough because it was entirely too tough. Good thing the pizzas are small because we suspect that if anyone tried to eat a leftover slice the next day, it would become impossibly dense. 

We were particularly interested in trying the Anytime Breakfast pizza. Sausage, bacon, potato, and a runny egg layered on top of mozzarella is supposed to make you think of a hearty breakfast in each bite. Trouble was, it didn't make me think of breakfast at all. Perhaps it was the mozzarella or whatever sauce they may have put on underneath, but it just seemed bland and greasy. Also, with only one slimy egg in the middle, the flavor of egg was mostly missing. 

I left Fazzin's Taverna feeling not only disappointed but concerned. Clearly, they must have known that such a radical change in menu would lose them a fair chunk of their regular clientele, and while I applaud the bold move from traditional red sauce Italian joint to upscale Mediterranean bistro, there were too many errors in execution to deem any of the dishes really exceptional. This is particularly critical when a restaurant is charging upscale prices. I hope that some of the cooking miscues will be worked out over time so that Fazzini's can firmly establish itself in its new incarnation. Otherwise, they may become stuck as neither pesce nor pollo and never find an audience.

Fazzini's Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Le Bernardin

<Sigh> Blogger ate my first version of this post, so this one will be a bit truncated in comparison.

Mr Minx is having a milestone birthday this year. When I asked him what he wanted to do, he said he'd like to have dinner at Le Bernardin. So I made a reservation. For lunch. Yes, I did call within a minute or so of the reservation line's 9:00 AM opening, but still couldn't snag a spot at dinner. Le sigh.

So we go for lunch and surprise! we don't have to order the usual app-entree-dessert three-course lunch - we can also choose between the two tasting menus that are also available at dinner! So we went for the six-course Le Bernardin tasting menu. How better to get the full Le Bernardin all-fish all-the-time experience?

The service at Le Bernardin is incredible. Moments after we're seated (on the same side of a 4-top so we don't have to shout at each other across the table - nice.) we're brought an amuse of salmon rillettes and thin rounds of toast on which to spread it. One of our many servers comes to take our drink order; neither of us want alcohol, and I'm not even supposed to drink (on blood thinners), so he suggests he bring me a mocktail. When I ask what sorts are available, he suggested that if I didn't like what he brought me, I could knock it off the table and he'd bring something else. He got it right the first time with a combination of tart grapefruit juice and rose water. While he was off, our bread dude came around with a little cloche-covered dish of soft butter and a selection of at least eight kinds of bread. We chose to start with a sundried tomato roll and another with basil and sesame seeds. Later, we tried a pretzel roll. All were tender, fluffy, delicious, and crusty where appropriate.

 Layers of Thinly Pounded Yellowfin Tuna; Foie Gras and
Toasted Baguette Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Soon our first course arrived. The slab of foie gras was like buttah, and the super thin slice of toast beneath it added a perfect little crunch to the otherwise melt-in-the-mouth texture of the dish.

Barely Cooked Scallop; Brown Butter Dashi
Our second course was sublime, and I could see patrons all around me using bread to sop up the remainder of that amazingly simple yet full-of-flavor sauce from their gilded scallop shells. And raw is really the best way to eat scallops. Did I mention the sauce? Brown butter and dashi. Brown butter. Dashi. Mindblowing.

King Crab Medley; Warm Matsutake Custard, Seaweed-Shiitake Broth
The crab medley included peekytoe as well as king crab, and while both were tasty, neither was my hometown blue crab. This dish reminded me of chawanmushi, a Japanese custard dish, but more delicate. Let's call it French-style.

Barely Cooked Wild Salmon; White Asparagus Peas and Fava Beans, Chervil Emulsion
The gorgeous salmon had been cooked very gently only on the bottom side, leaving it with a silky texture somewhere between sashimi and poached. All of the other elements were flavorful and perfectly seasoned, which reminded us of a meal we had recently in Baltimore that had the same elements (white asparagus, favas, peas) but little or no flavor. Salt is such an important ingredient. In fact, everything we ate at Le Bernardin was nicely seasoned, and I was surprised at one point to see a server bringing an elegant set of salt and pepper grinders to a nearby table.

Wild Striped Bass; Bhutanese Red Rice, Green Papaya Salad, Ginger-Red Wine Sauce
As I sat there, wondering how the meal could be more perfect, we hit a speedbump. If we had to order from the three course lunch menu, the wild striped bass would have been my choice for entree. But, as it turns out, I didn't like it. At all. The red wine sauce was overwhelming and cried out for a nice piece of red meat. The fish was bland in comparison and perhaps even a tad overcooked. The papaya salad had none of the bright and spicy notes typically found in the popular Thai dish. It didn't taste of anything, actually. And I don't particularly care for red rice, with it's odd texture that's both mushy and hard. Mr Minx felt the same way.

Pavlova: Roasted Pineapple, Guava Jam, Yuzu-Coconut Sorbet
The meal was put back on track when we received our pre-dessert pavlova. It was a perfect four spoonfuls of cool sorbet, sweet jam and pineapple, and crispy meringue crackers.

Opera: Chocolate Mousse, Praline Feuilletine, Brazilian Coffee Ice Cream
I'd have been content with ending the meal at the pavlova, but we also received a thin slice of classic opera cake garnished with crisp feuilletine, cold ice cream, and tender mousse. I wonder how they managed to roll that cylinder of mousse in cocoa without denting it? And...just when we thought we were finished, we were brought little squares of a currant-flavored cake.

As we were eating, I brazenly took photos of every course, but then so did about half of the other patrons in the restaurant. Thanks to well-placed lighting, the shots came out pretty well. I also took notes, which prompted our captain to bring me both a copy of the menu and a special black-bound edition of the 2014 Zagat guide with the Le Bernardin write-up embossed on the cover, because he thought I'd find them useful. How nice was that? He did seem disappointed when we handed him our business card and found that we were from Baltimore, but he promised to give it to the chef. I'm expecting a call from Eric Ripert any day now.

So...the food was lovely, the service was stellar, and we really felt pampered. A friend asked me if Le Bernardin lived up to my expectations, and I have to say yes. Even the bass dish, because I didn't expect the restaurant to be perfect. Mostly perfect, but not absolutely perfect. Just perfect enough.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Strawberry Gazpacho

I love gazpacho. There's nothing more refreshing on a hot summer's day than a bowl or mug full of chilled vegetable puree flavored with a bit of acid and garlic. And it's pretty easy to make, if you have a blender.

We bought one of those mega-packs of strawberries a couple weeks ago and I was worried that we might not be able to eat them all before leaving town for a few days. Then I got the idea to substitute strawberries for the tomatoes usually found in gazpacho. It looked pretty much the same, but the soup had a lightly sweet and definitely strawberry flavor. And boom! No more strawberries in the fridge.

Strawberry Gazpacho
If your strawberries are very sweet, you might not need to add any additional sweetener.

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
1 pint strawberries, hulled and cut in half
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Superfine sugar, to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine cucumber, strawberries, pepper, and garlic in a blender and puree. Season with the vinegar and lime juice, adding sugar, salt, and pepper to taste.

Transfer soup to a bowl or resealable container and refrigerate at least two hours until the flavors have had time to blend.

Serves 2-4.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Farmstead Grill Opening

Since The Dogwood closed, everyone's been waiting for Galen Sampson's new venture. Farmstead Grill, at the Shops at Canton Crossing, will finally open its doors at 11am on Monday, June 16th. The restaurant, which makes farm-to-table dining affordable, will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week. Examples of dishes that will be served: grilled Chesapeake oysters gratinéed with smoked crab spring spinach and fennel; Moroccan spiced lamb with roasted tri-colored carrots and wilted baby dandelion greens; and mustard and lavender honey roasted half chicken with baby haruki turnips and rosemary salt-baked new potatoes.

Colorful and airy, the 6000-square foot, 230-seat, Farmstead Grill is flooded with natural light from both ground-level and clerestory windows. The interior weaves together such rustic elements as reclaimed barn-wood and beams, wrought iron and rough-textured linen with cream leather upholstery and colorful banquettes. The restaurant seats 190 on two levels indoors and 48 outside on a raised patio facing a leafy park. And parking is plentiful and free!

The restaurant is located at 3721 Boston Street, Baltimore, MD 21224. Reservations can be made online starting June 16th at or by calling 410-762-2100.

Farmstead Grill’s companion kiosk, Farmstead Shack, will open in July. This 430-square foot carry-out with 30 outdoor seats and a wine and beer license is across the park from Farmstead Grill and will host a wide variety of lawn parties and events. Its menu will feature house-made hot dogs, brats, breakfast biscuits, fresh juices and more.

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Monday, June 09, 2014

Herb & Soul Offers New Summer Menu Items

Herb & Soul in Parkville has been a full-service restaurant for about a year now, but they've certainly wasted no time in drawing attention to their fresh, locally sourced cuisine. With musical entertainment every Saturday night, Bistro Burger Nights every Wednesday, and their stall at the Baltimore Farmers' Market on Sunday mornings, they are making sure that the community knows about their commitment to quality food prepared with fresh, organic, locally raised proteins and vegetables.

Recently I was invited to a media lunch featuring some of their new summer menu items. We started off with a charcuterie board of Kentucky wild boar salami, Virginia proscuitto ham, Humbolt Fog blue cheese, pickled zucchini, and a parmesan crisp. The wild boar used in the salami is also used in one of the burger options for Bistro Burger night. The proscuitto was more akin to Virginia ham with a mild flavor. My favorite part of the plate was the apple cardamom butter with its bright floral quality that paired well with the salami and procuitto.

The next course was an avocado and cucumber soup with littleneck clams and a small dollop of kimchee floating on top. A study in balance, this soup paired the creaminess of avocado with the bright, refreshing quality of cucumber. A  touch of brininess was provided by the clams and a spicy kick from the kimchee. Each bite offers a different taste but the overall effect is harmonious.

The Southern panzanella salad uses cubes of cornbread wrapped in two types of kale with some slices of radish and a crispy strip of pork belly from Springfield Farms. The salad is dressed with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The people at Herb & Soul are masters of baking and the corn bread is as good as their biscuits. The pork belly was closer to bacon than the fatty pork belly I'm used to, but it was still tender and not crackling the way I expected it to be from its appearance. I only wished their had been more balsamic vinegar for the cornbread to sop up and integrate with the rest of the salad.

The True Blue Maryland crab cake was what I would call an honest crab cake with minimal filler and backfin crab meat rather than the clumsy lumps found in some other cakes. Rather than mixing the crab with a gloppy sauce that would cause the cake to fall apart, Executive Chef David Thomas places the cake on a pool of sriracha cream sauce with a kale and olive oil drizzle. Also hidden under the crab cake was a black-eyed pea and lima bean succotash.

Our entree was a tender lamb chop from Wagon Wheel Ranch, cooked medium rare and layered on a roasted pepper spoon bread and creamed kale (I guess by now you have guessed that Chef Thomas is fond of kale). I'm a big fan of lamb and this was probably one of the best lamb chops I've ever had. The spoon bread was like a warm, savory pudding with a mild sweetness provided by the sweet potatoes and onion. The mauve squiggle on the plate was a sour beet reduction.

We finished our meal with a strawberry pecan crostata, made with strawberries from Zahradka Farm and topped with whipped cream made with goat's milk from Trickling Springs Creamery. I could tell from the first bite that the strawberries were fresh, and pastry chef Tonya Thomas wisely allowed the flavor of the strawberries to shine through with a minimal amount of sugar. The crust was dense but flaky, reminding me of the tarts and pies my grandmother used to make. In fact, the whole meal gave me the feeling of comforting home cooking, but executed with a level of care we home cooks cannot always achieve.

Tucked away on Yakona Road just off Loch Raven Boulevard, Herb & Soul is a restaurant you won't simply stumble onto, but it's worth seeking out. They will likely win you over with their warm hospitality and winning menu, but you will definitely become hooked once you taste Chef Brandon Taylor's biscuits.

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