Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Out and About in September

We have been going out like crazy lately and I've been terribly remiss about blogging about it. So here's a quick(?) recap of what we ate and did during September.

Parts & Labor for Burgers
In case you missed it, Dixon and I are collaborating on a series of articles for (cool) progeny. Each article highlights some of our favorite spots for a specific meal. First, we tackled mac and cheese. Next up was burgers.

One of the burgers on our list was the locally-raised monster at Parts & Labor in Remington. We used the article as an excuse for dinner at P&L - and it was as good as ever. The pre-dinner charcuterie was perfect, as it always is. Dixon's burger was ridiculous and Cooper's lamb was gorgeous. But I won the night with sausage-stuffed chicken over ratatouille. It was a simple but genius combination of summer and fall flavors. Everything about it was great.

CFF Passion for Food and Wine 
There are so many worthwhile causes out there and I am continually impressed by how Baltimore's restaurant community steps up to support them. The community rallies especially hard for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation - and rightly so.

The organization is one of the best I know - thin on bureaucracy (over 90% of funds raised go directly to research) and thick on results. There have been very real, significant strides in developing treatments for cystic fibrosis over the past several decades and CFF's fundraising efforts have fueled those developments.

But what does this have to do with what we ate in September? Early in the month, we were lucky enough to be invited to CFF's Passion for Food and Wine, an event that is so much fun and raises so much money. It's mind-boggling.

I've written about Passion here and here - but here's a quick overview: five years ago, a bunch of Baltimore chefs got together for an event to raise money for CFF. They wanted to do something unusual, so they decided instead of a standard "we fix bites and people mill around and visit our stations" cocktail event, they'd put together a multi-course, sit-down dinner - and they'd cook the dinner in front of the guests.

Each participating restaurant has its own table. Twelve guests sit around the table - shaped like a square-ish "U" - and watch the chef prepare the meal. This year, we were at the Colette table, where Chef Stefano Porcile absolutely crushed it. CRUSHED.

So much foie.

While this is happening, Sergio Vitale of Aldo's and Jerry Pellegrino of Schola hop up on a stage and auction off amazing experiences, like having Chef Cindy Wolf cook dinner for you and 12 of your friends. There's also a silent auction - this year we won some crystal from Smyth and a seafood tower and whiskey tasting at Loch Bar.

The event raises an unreal amount of money - hundreds of thousands of dollars, just in one night. And it is one of the most fun parties out there. I get a little emotional watching how committed everyone is to both the cause and the food. Everyone involved, from the CFF staff to the chefs to the other guests, is so dedicated and excited about the cause. "Passion" really is an apt name for the event.

Les Folies for Nan's 98th
In mid-September, my grandmother turned 98 and Dixon just happened to have the day off school.

My mom had also taken the day off work, so the four of us went to lunch at one of Nan's favorite restaurants, Les Folies in Annapolis.

Nan is a restaurant aficionado. I can't count how many times I have been out to lunch or dinner with her. Les Folies has long been one of her go-tos partly for convenience - it's on Riva Road, close to where she used to live - but mostly because their classic French food is consistently excellent.

Of course, what I ate wasn't classic, though the preparation was French, I suppose: sauteed softshell in a white wine and butter sauce. My mom had the same. Classic or no, it was fantastic.

Bookmakers with the Tribe
There are only a handful of William & Mary grads in the Baltimore area; most people end up in DC or New York or...somewhere else. And my college friends who do live in the area are scattered all over. As a result,we don't see each other much - if at all.

But one random Tuesday night last month, it just so happened that a friend from Austin would be visiting another friend in Columbia. Next thing we knew, we were having a little reunion at Bookmakers in Federal Hill, where the food is good and the drinks are amazing.

As is always the case when I do see W&M friends, it was super fun - and a great reminder that my college friends are crazy smart and interesting and they make the world a better place

Dining Out for Life at Silver Queen Cafe
Moveable Feast's annual restaurant-oriented fundraiser, Dining Out for Life, was September 15th. It's a good one - local restaurants donate a percentage of their take for the evening to the cause, which makes it easy to do a little bit of good.

This year, we went to Silver Queen Cafe in Hamilton, where we gorged on crab dip and pizza and pasta and fried chicken.

Silver Queen was packed, dinner was great, and we remembered that Hamilton is only about 10 minutes from where we live, so we should go there more often. It's good!

Jack's Bistro with Friends
Cooper and I have been to a lot of restaurants, but considering how quickly the food scene in Baltimore is growing, there's just no way we could possibly keep up with every place that's new.

But you'd think that, by now, we'd have been everywhere that's been around, and well-regarded, for at least a few years. But we haven't. We keep a short list of places we really need to go and, slowly but surely, we're checking them off.

We are not the only people who keep these lists. So when we coordinated schedules with our friends Rich and Lisa and their friends Doug and Kacey, we also coordinated our "places we haven't been" lists.

One of the places all of us needed to visit was Jack's Bistro in Canton. Everyone I know loves it and I've always felt a little embarrassed that I hadn't been. I was correct to feel that way. Jack's is fantastic and everyone should go.

It's tiny and pretty cramped, but in a charming way, and the food is really good and so are the drinks. I had pasta with pesto and duck that I loved so much - and everything on the menu looked excellent.

So that was one place we got to cross off our list. Of course, now we want to go back.

La Food Marketa for Tacos
In the five years that it's been open, Food Market in Hampden has established itself as one of the very best - and very most reliable - restaurants in Baltimore. It's not a surprise, then, that people were excited to hear that Chad Gauss, the chef/owner of Food Market, had plans to expand. And into the County, no less!

We visited La Food Marketa, Gauss's new south-of-the-border-influenced spot in Quarry Lake, about two weeks after it opened. It was a beautiful night and the restaurant was jammed. And it was good!

The menu is fun, with lots of flavor, and we liked everything we ate. But I really loved the drinks. The spicy, smoky pineapple margarita was absolutely killer. It might not be for everyone, but if, like me, spicy and smoky and pulpy drinks do it for you, you need to try this one.

Starlite Diner for Brunch
The second Shoo-Fly locked it's Belvedere Square doors in May of 2015, locals started speculating about what would take its place. Earlier this year, we got our answer: Starlite, a restaurant that promised to hew closer to the "diner" concept than Shoo-Fly did, while still being a little more upscale than your average roadside diner.

After an interior facelift - which looks great- and a few months to sort out the menu, etc., Starlite opened in late September. On its third day, I headed there for lunch with my friend Bert, who lives in San Diego but happened to be in town, just for a couple days.

As soon as we walked in, the host, manager and waitress all jumped to introduce themselves to us - and to let us know that since they just opened, we would be receiving 20% off our bill, as a thanks for our patience. Smart, I thought. Very smart.

Service did take a long time that day; the waitress explained that the kitchen remade my dish, crawfish benedict, because they weren't happy with the first iteration. I don't know what round one looked like, but I was happy with the plate that made it to the table:

Overall, we liked everything we ate and liked the staff, too. In the couple weeks since then, I've heard mixed reviews from friends who have been, though by and large, it seems that the negatives are things that will get sorted out as the staff - both front of house and kitchen - gains experience.

And I remain hopeful that the building has found a concept that will stick around for a while.

Farm to Chef Maryland
Toward the end of the month, Cooper and I had the opportunity to go to Farm to Chef Maryland, a big food event held at the B&O Railroad Museum, benefiting Days of Taste.

Days of Taste is a program run by the non-profit TasteWise Kids. The goal of Days of Taste is to encourage young kids to appreciate the benefits of fresh food. Since I have a young kid, I know exactly how lofty a goal that is - and also how important.

Before we got to the event, I already knew that the restaurant community loves it. It's setup as a competition; each participating restaurant is matched with a farm and a panel of judges decides who does the best job on a handful of categories. The restaurant uses ingredients from the farm to create a small bite or a cocktail. Local breweries and wineries are also in attendance, so there are a lot of drink options a lot of food options.

We tried a ton of good stuff. My favorites included a really nice, simple quesadilla from Nacho Mama's, delicious sausage from Hersh's, a super-interesting take on watermelon from Alma Cocina Latina and this apple and oyster concoction from Conrad's:

It was a good party, packed with fun food people and I was so busy talking that I hardly took any photos. The oyster was it for the food photos.

I did, however, also take this one to send to Dixon, after he texted me to complain that the chicken tikka masala I ordered for him was "weird" and "not like the other place." I chose not to take that opportunity to regale him with the wonders of veal parm TV dinners, which is what I ate on babysitter nights when I was a kid.

I swear. Kids today. (And that's Black Ankle Crumbling Rock in that glass. It is so good. So good.)

Modern Cook Shop  Party
Farm to Chef was on a Monday and it kicked off a crazy busy week. On Tuesday, Amy and I headed down to Fells for a party at Modern Cook Shop, the new market-restaurant combo from the owners of Fork & Wrench.

I spent most of our time there trying to subtly scarf down as much charcuterie as possible. There were also oysters, gorgeous scallops and really excellent cocktails. So the food is good. But the space might even be better. I love the market-restaurant concept, especially since the "market" part of it isn't just an afterthought.

The shelves are stacked with rows of wine, olive oil, condiments and all kinds of useful items, many of which are made locally.

It makes for a space that's both good-looking and functional. I really liked it.

8 ball Meatball
After the Modern Cook Shop party, Amy and I ambled over to 8 Ball Meatball, the newish meatball shop and bar on Broadway. 8 Ball's concept: it's all about meatballs. You choose your meat, your sauce and any sides you'd like and next thing you know, you've got a plate of meatballs in front of you.

I took the bartender's advice, pairing the spicy pork meatball with a cream sauce and spinach. Everything was very nice (except my picture, which was awful). Best of all, it was seasoned properly. Just spicy enough, just enough salt.

The Ambassador for Dixon's 10th
At the very end of the month, Dixon turned 10. He's so old.

It took the three of us a long time to figure out where to eat for his birthday. Where do you go for a kid who's been everywhere, but still won't eat vegetables unless they are stuffed in ravioli or cooked down in some sort of sauce?

The answer, we decided, was the Ambassador. DRP loves Indian food - he would eat it every night if we let him.

Cooper and I hadn't been to the Ambassador for years, but it was just as stately as we remembered. Were we the youngest people in the place? Well, yes, but that doesn't bother me. Our service was lovely and my grilled shrimp was beautifully prepared.

And that was a wrap for September. So far in October, we've taken things slightly easier (though we did go to Clavel twice last week). I've even been cooking at home, occasionally. But with new places opening all the time - and our list of old places we haven't been still lurking - how easy can we take it?

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