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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