Monday, June 27, 2016

Observations from Abroad

We have just started the second half of a 2-week trip to Ireland and Scotland - right now I'm in the Edinburgh airport, after a weekend in the city, about to head back to Athy, Ireland, which has been out home base.

I'm on my phone, which is not super conducive to blogging, but I did want to share a couple quick observations about food in these countries.

First, the whole Irish love potatoes thing...it's more real than I even imagined. Sides of chips or mashed potatoes come with everything. Even some dishes that already include potatoes.

That's why I'm sorry to say that to me, Scottish chips are better than Irish. They're somewhat skinnier and seem to have spent more time in the fryer. We've had some really good ones.

Speaking of Scotland, I am an unabashed fan of haggis - I'm such a scrapple girl that of course I love it's Scottish cousin. 

What I didn't expect in Scotland, though,was the best Indian food I've bet eaten. It makes sense - the Empire and all - but I was pleasantly surprised, anyway, to find that Mother India's, where we went on the recommendation of our AirBNB host, was outrageously good. 

Finally, another big surprise: the Irish have figured out how to always - ALWAYS- serve food steaming hot. It's kind of fascinating.

More on all of this when I return!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Food in June

We are just about to head out of town on a pretty great trip (Ireland!) - and while I probably should've spent the last two weeks packing, instead, I spent it eating. It's been great.

Here's what I've been up to:

On one gorgeous Thursday night, Cooper and I went to The French Kitchen, at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, to check out their new spring/summer menu. We especially liked the fried green tomato starter, which had a spicy remoulade that was excellent. Shrimp and corn bisque, crab cakes (very traditional! In a good way!) and wild rockfish served with stewed tomatoes were other high points.

The French Kitchen's space, with its high ceilings and Eiffel Tower centerpiece, is a fun interpretation of fancy. But the hotel's real star attraction is the rooftop bar, LB Skybar. It has a killer view and we had a couple very nice cocktails. The weather was gorgeous and I left thinking that if I still worked nearby, I'd be up there every night.

The Brewer's Hill area is just blowing up lately. Last week, I went to a fun media preview at Gnocco, the new spot from Brian Lavin, formerly of Salt and Fork and Wrench. The food - Mediterranean - was excellent and the space is super cute.

And I was especially happy to see that Gilles, who worked with the chef at Salt, will be working the front of house. He's great - that he's a part of the team definitely bodes well for service!

Gnocco officially opens next week. Everyone should go!

Gunther + Co. is another recent opening, right around the corner from Gnocco. It's been open for close to a month now. We went about two weeks after it opened and already, both the service and food was in great shape.

We were especially impressed by the service; our waiter knew the menu backwards and forwards. The food was very good, too - the duck confit lumpia was probably my favorite dish - and the space is gorgeous. It's a great spot for drinks and oysters - both menus are solid - or for a full meal.


With so many places opening all the time, it's often tough to revisit restaurants, even if they're always good. Like Woodberry. I love it and don't go nearly enough.

This past weekend, I found myself there for brunch with a bunch of other moms. It was the kind of meal that is so fun to attend but, I'm sure, a nightmare to handle from a service end because everyone is so chatty, it takes a million years to turn the table.

But it was really fun - and a great reminder that Woodberry just gets it right. My meal was straightforward - a bloody mary that was exactly the right amount of spicy and a perfectly, perfectly seasoned asparagus and goat cheese flatbread. Just great all around. I should go there more, especially now that it's nice out, so the patio is open.


Finally, and also last weekend, Cooper and I attended Feastival, an afternoon on the harbor, with food from some awesome restaurants, all benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Maryland.

The cause is such a good one and it warms my heart to see how the city's chefs rally behind it. It is also super fun. The day was a little breezy, but sunny, and Cooper and I arrived right when the party started so we could make the most of our time there.

Here's what I remember eating: tacos from Clavel, shrimp with pineapple foam from The Food Market, oysters from Loch Bar, salmon sashimi from Azumi, a spicy banh mi from Gunther + Co., sticky and sweet sesame wings from Hersh's, a gorgeous gruyere gougere from Colette (OK, three of them - they were so good), sausage and peppers from Wit + Wisdom, squid ink pasta from Aggio and raw carrot cake from Encantada.

I'm sure I'm leaving someone out, too! Everything was good (for real), but those gougeres...I could've eaten about forty of them and still gone back for more.

I washed everything down with an herbaceous vodka lemonade that was ideal for outdoor day drinking. It would have been easy to have about forty of those, too.


This actually isn't even everything. We've also had some fun pool cookouts and last night, we went to an amazing dinner at Boordy Vineyard, catered by The Food Market and featuring their new line of wines, Sweetland Cellars. More to come on that - the drinks, the food and the space all blew me away and I remembered just how much I love it up there.

It's been a good month so far, no doubt. Good...and full!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Pool Season


I love pool season. When I was little, it meant long days, starting with early morning swim team and ending much, much later, at the pond in Ben Oaks, where I grew up. My parents would sit underneath a big willow tree (which is, sadly, no longer), drinking beer and hanging out with their friends. It was pretty great - for me and for them.

When I was teenager, I was the lifeguard there and I spent my days off laying out on the little strip of land that separates the pond from the Severn River - always on my stomach, trying to even out my tan. (Or, rather, "tan." I am pasty or pink, but never quite golden.)

As an adult, I miss Ben Oaks, but the Stoneleigh Pool - even though it's not next to the river - meets all of my summertime social needs. We log a lot of evening hours there in the summertime. It's a good time.

Since there's a very strict no-glass rule at the pool, summertime, for us, is all about plastic and cans. This year, that means lots of LBLL's (schlepped back from Keuka Lake), Leinenkugel grapefruit shandies (finally, this year, available in cans), and Union Craft Old Pro (how can you resist that can?).

I've also developed a recent obsession with the salsa and guacamole made by the people who work at our local Giant. They are so good - especially the salsa, which is very slightly spicy and just a little bit sweet. I eat an embarrassing amount of it when I'm home alone.

But that's what summer is all about, right? Eating salsa instead of dinner and drinking citrusy beers while your kid wears himself out messing around with friends in the pool.

Now, if school would just end, we'd really be in business.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Spring 2016 Recap

Now that Memorial Day has come and gone and everyone at my house is 100% over school (despite the fact that school itself is not actually over), it's time for a big, long recap of all the things I've neglected to write about over the past couple months.

So here it is: the parties and drinks and meals that made Spring 2016 fun (but that haven't made it onto the blog until now):


Way back in March, I helped my brother and sister throw a 70th birthday party for my dad. We ate oysters and Boston cream pie and drank a ginomrous bottle of French wine. We decorated my parents' screened in porch with old photos (my sister's idea) and about 10 million of those poms you have to manually fluff.

We also, at the last minute, thought it would be fun to have a photographer come to take some family photos. Rachel Rock came to the house and took some awesome pictures of all of us - and she was very fun while she did it. Most of the pictures below are hers:



Also back in March, Cooper and I went to Cellar Sessionsa wine class with Wit + Wisdom's sommelier Julie Dalton. She is so smart and good at her job.

The class was no joke - she walked us through how to blind taste wines like a sommelier. Walking into the class, we both thought we knew some things about wine - this was not the first tasting class we've taken. But it was definitely the most intense in terms of knowledge. As a result, Cooper's wine vocabulary and ability to pinpoint specific aromas and flavors has increased significantly. (I still mostly smell fruit and booze when I stick my nose in a glass...his palate continues to put mine to shame.)



In April, I was a judge at the Taste of Pikesville, which was hectic and fun and full of surprises, like an excellent bread pudding from FutureCare, pretty sushi from Wegmans and a smorgasboard of Uzbek specialties from the guys I love at Silk Road.

I also left with this gorgeous collection of chocolates from Raimondi's. They tasted even better than they looked.



After a couple years of not being able to make it for one reason or another, Cooper and Dixon and I finally made it to The Emporiyum, the big, roving food festival.

I spent the first few minutes feeling totally overwhelmed, but once I got acclimated, I loved every second of of the experience. Some of my favorite food people were there, like the crew from Clavel and Nick from The Local Oyster, and I had my first taste of an Ekiben steam bun. It totally lived up to the hype. And there was a lot of hype.



One sunny Saturday afternoon, Cooper and Dixon and I drove up to John Brown General and Butchery, which met all of my very high expectations. Not only is the place adorable, it's also filled with incredible meat, cheese, wine and other things I didn't even know I needed in my life, like a fistful of ramps (later grilled) and a plastic tub of creamy fresh ricotta.



One quiet Monday night, after a hellish day of writing, I had drinks with Charm City Cook at WC Harlan, followed by queso fundido (and more drinks) at Clavel. It was my first trip to WC Harlan, which was, as I expected, very cool and the drinks were thoughtful and creative and completely delicious.

The whole experience improved my day (and week) considerably. "Monday night drinks" sounds risky, but in this case, it was nothing but smart.



One good way to justify Sunday afternoon drinks and apps is to present it in class form. That's how I found myself drinking and eating my way through an afternoon at Bookmakers (again with Charm City Cook). CCC and behind-the-bar master Ryan Sparks teamed up for an Instagram class that genuinely helped me with my crappy picture-taking skills.

Also, it helped me enjoy my Sunday. Because, how couldn't I?



Baltimore's food scene has been exploding over the past couple years - and that's especially noticeable right in the middle of the city, near Hampden/Remington/Clipper Mill, where new restaurants and food-centric mixed use real estate projects are popping up every day.

I checked out one of those developments, Whitehall Mill, during a fun event organized by Baltimore magazine and CCC (she gets around). Whitehall Mill will include a pretty massive food hall and a restaurant, which is great  news for anyone who likes to eat.



At the end of April, I met college friends in New York and had brunch at Hudson Clearwater and drinks at Grand Banks (it's a bar on a sailboat!) and dinner at The Greenwich Project.

The weather was gorgeous, we drank a boatload of rose and prosecco, and it was so much fun. We hadn't all been together in twenty years, so the weekend could have, theoretically, been awkward. It wasn't. It was great.

Also, I want to give a special shoutout to the staff at The Greenwich Project.There was a seating mixup while we were there - something annoying but that could've been fixed with a single round of drinks. Instead, they bought all of our drinks and dessert - and encouraged us to keep ordering more. They went above and beyond to make sure we had a good time. So we did.

In mid-May, I went to Black-Eyed Susan Day, where we ran into Bowtie Bob, did not win any money, had our picture taken by an ESPN photographer, and were reminded that hats can seriously impede peripheral vision. Also, they make my head hot. But they're so cute!

Black-Eyed Susan Day, the day of races before Preakness, is billed as a ladies' day (though there are lots of guys there, too). Mostly, it's known as a more manageable, more grown-up Preakness for locals. There's still some great people-watching, but BESD does not involve the sort of infield antics that Preakness is known for. It's a good time!



Finally, we spent Memorial Day on Keuka Lake with Mike, Alicia and Maggie, watching Dixon learn to SUP while eating and drinking our faces off - including a trip to McGregor (my favorite Keuka winery) and two trips to The Olney Place, where Cider Creek's Cran-Mango Saison became my new favorite thing.



This isn't it, of course. There have been little girls' birthday parties and back porch dinners and a mother-son Oriole's game and two museum-heavy DC visits and a whole bunch of other fun things. It's been a great spring...and all signs are pointing to a summer that's just as eventful.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Trendy: Black Salt

I'm doing some writing and just realized this: black salt rims are totally a thing now. And I totally approve.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Recently(ish) Visited Restaurants: B+O American Brasserie and Cosima

It's been a busy couple months around here. We've been getting out and about quite a bit, which means my "stuff to write" list is painfully long.

Here's a quick recap of two of the best dinners we've had over the past month:

B+O American Brasserie

Just yesterday, I learned, via Facebook, that B+O chef Michael Ransom is leaving town, heading to Detroit to open a place of his own. Great news for him, sad news for us. Ransom's food is thoughtful and lovely - and he's such a nice guy.

At  the end of April, we tasted a selection from B&O's new spring menu and, across the board, it was excellent. There was rockfish and steak, a beautiful charcuterie plate, and charred calamari that was really special.

But our favorite dish was definitely the lamb relleno. The pepper was stuffed with dirty rice and pulled lamb - and it was so, so good. Spicy, but not overly so, and genuinely interesting.

Dinner also included several cocktails created by the incomparable Brendan Dorr, one of Baltimore's best bartenders. His drinks are creative and smart - and delicious.

Our favorite was the Purple Rain (created and named just before Prince's passing). Lavender-infused cachaca, lemon and honey apple shrub. It was light, but potent, and it came with a lesson on shrubs that vastly expanded my knowledge. As is so often the case, I thought I had a handle on the subject, but discovered that what I knew was only a tiny tip of the iceberg.

Overall, the meal was really nice - and a good reminder that B+O does it right. The space is fantastic, the service prompt and both the food and drinks very good. If you haven't been in a while, go.

***

Cosima


Cosima, in Mill No. 1, opened earlier this year to seriously fabulous reviews - the kind every restaurant hopes for - praising both the space and the food. It's been on our short list since then, though because it feels somewhat like a special occasion place (in part because it's on the pricier side), it took us a few months.

Ultimately, the special occasion that finally got us to Cosima was nothing more than a standard Thursday night. When we arrived, the restaurant was fairly busy. We took Richard's advice, finding a couple seats at the bar and ordering several smaller plates and one pizza, all to share.

The pizza crust was terrific and we loved both the basket filled with fried seafood (whole sardines!) and the grilled baby octopus. But my favorite dish - and it came as a surprise, since it was a late, somewhat random addition to our order - was the involtini. Ricotta-stuffed eggplant, placed in a small cast iron dish and surrounded by a simmering red sauce, was seasoned absolutely perfectly - a feat that happens less frequently than you might think. (We are super judgey about appropriate seasoning.)

I'd also like to give a shoutout to the bartenders, who were completely on top of things and knew the wine list backwards and forwards. They took turns offering me wines they thought I might like - and impressed me repeatedly.

Sitting at the bar, for just the two of us on a random Thursday, was absolutely the right call. Though the people sharing tables looked happy, too - and the space is gorgeous.

***

The city has seen a bunch of high profile openings recently and there are more new openings announced every day. Plus, the restaurants that have been around for a while have seriously been stepping up their games. It's a great time to be a restaurant lover in Baltimore.

My restaurants-to-visit list keeps getting longer and longer - but it's one to-do list that can grow and grow. I don't mind a bit.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Drink Crush: Limoncello Collins


I am feeling sunny as anything today - and that is only partly related to the weather gods finally granting us a brief reprieve from the constant rain.

It's also because I have big plans today: instead of work, work, working, I'm heading to Black-Eyed Susan Day with a handful of fun ladies. Then, for the rest of the weekend, I plan to relax, watch some lacrosse and horses, and generally enjoy myself.

Last weekend, I did a lot of the same (minus the horses). On Saturday, we had an impromptu dinner party that turned into a rager (the kind that involves a bunch of kids ten and under...so I'm using that term loosely).

The night kicked off to a promising start with a big batch of Limoncello Collinses, made from this Food and Wine recipe. They're a fantastic batch drink and so delicious. Also, dangerous. They're like massively alcoholic sunshine in a glass.

Last week was my second time making them. I also made a batch for Mother's Day, when we had my parents and grandmother over for dinner. A meal that turned into...well, it wasn't a rager, but Cooper and I did stay up way too late for a Sunday, drinking and listening to music and talking about how lucky we are to have such a great kid.

If you're looking for an easy to make, truly tasty summertime cocktail, this is your drink. Even non-gin drinkers like it. The only catch is that you have to prepare it a couple hours in advance, so it can settle into itself.

But if you can handle that...watch out. It's a treat.

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