Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Fourth Quarter Dining and Such

Everyone agrees that 2016 was a tough year on the grand scale, but on a personal level, for me, it had a lot of high points.

We ate and drank some fantastic things. I tried new places and hung out with food friends as often as possible. We drank tons of Hazanas Rioja. Cooper and I spent an interestingly large chunk of the year inside distilleries, both in the U.S. and in Ireland (one day I'll write about the rest of that trip). Dixon and I started collaborating (those articles are so fun to write). It was a good time.

But now, here it is in 2017 and I haven't written about some of the meals I ate in October. That's embarrassing.

So let's take care of that. Here's a look at some of our end of year highlights:

Towson Tavern
Towson Tavern got a new chef this fall - Josh Vecchiolla, the former sous from Parts & Labor. I've always liked it there, but under Vecchiolla's guidance, the menu has gotten a meaty upgrade that's really strong.

We had dinner there in late October with our friends Will and Karen. The drinks were excellent, as always, but the best parts were the stinging nettle dip and this chicken, which was seasoned perfectly, cooked in a cast iron pan, and just great all around.

Visionary Arts Museum Food Exhibit
The new exhibit at the AVAM is all about food, so we, obviously, had to go. It's pretty cool.

I mean, how could I not love this? A note about celebratory meals, posted right over a book called Muskrat Cookin'. That museum, it is the best.

The last weekend in October, we celebrated Bill's birthday with dinner at Henninger's (always the best - I could go there every night) and after dinner drinks at Cat's Eye Pub.

It was Halloween weekend and the weather was gorgeous, so Fells was wild. We made some friends - including an older guy who was dressed as "half naked" (literally, he was half naked). And I remembered why Cat's Eye is one of the best bars anyplace.

We barely took any pictures, but for whatever reason, I did snap this pre-dinner shot of Cooper and his duck lips. Why? Who knows.

Bar Vasquez
Foreman Wolf's new Argentine spot, Bar Vasquez, opened in the old Pazo space this fall and in early November, I had the chance to try it out with a fun group of food friends. It was so good. So good.

I've been recommending it right and left - it's an absolutely perfect place for a special occasion dinner, or even just to meet up with friends if you're looking for something a little more sophisticated than your average Baltimore evening. It's expensive, but between the food, the space, the drinks and the service, it's well worth it.

These potatoes were spectacular, but then, everything was. The duck I had for dinner might be the best duck I've ever eaten.

I made fig-rosemary jam! I had to. Our fig crop this year was hilariously large and it hung on until...well, it's January and there are still figs on the tree. I doubt they're good, but they're hanging on.

No Kid Hungry at Food Market
Also in early November, Cooper and I went to a dinner at Food Market, benefiting No Kid Hungry. Charm City Cook Amy organized the event, which involved a bunch of local chefs and raised a boatload of money for the organization.

We were thrilled to be a part of that, but we were also thrilled to be on the receiving end of some incredible food. One thing this city does well is a chef-driven charity dinner. I have heard stories of boring "rubber chicken" fundraiser food. Seems to me, Baltimore has risen above that.

Our table was an absolute blast; whoever did the table assignments was a rock star. And every course was terrific. This, venison lasagna by Bryan Voltaggio, was more like a napolean than like lasagna. Incredible.

Wicked Sisters
Wicked Sisters, the new spot in the old McCabe's space in Hampden, opened earlier this fall. It's the latest effort from Charlie and Lori Gjerde and Carrie Podles, who own several other local spots, including Papi's Tacos.

Cooper and I found ourselves with an unexpected Dixon-free Friday night in mid-November, so we stopped in to see what it was all about. It's casual and fun and we liked the food a lot. We started with Brussels sprouts (solid) and I had an excellent burger.

After dinner, Charlie handed us this glass full of Winecream, and we couldn't say no. I mean, they're a local company. Who doesn't want to support that?

Mock Thanksgiving 
Our annual pre-Thanksgiving party was a small affair this year, with just a few friends and their kids coming over for dinner on the Sunday before the big holiday. I made a mess of the turkey and I might not be ready to talk about that yet (or ever), but the night was an overall success, thanks largely to Piper and Hadley, who came over early and set a mean kids table.

Those two design stars have started their own YouTube channel and Facebook page. If you're a fan of short videos of hilarious girls, I strongly suggest you follow them.

Clavel and WC Harlan
After Thanksgiving, we jumped straight into the busy holiday social season.

The first weekend in December, our friend Stacey came down to visit us from New York. Alicia and Mary and I took her to Clavel and WC Harlan. We knew she'd love them both - who doesn't?

Stacey took this picture!

Carol and Crawl
For the ninth year in a row, we spent the first Saturday of December with our friends, celebrating the holiday season with way, way, way too much booze and a lot of off-key singing. Not caroling - despite the name of the party, there is no caroling. If there's any crawling, it's done after the party has officially ended, when people are trying to make it to their beds. It is a fun party. With lots of mozzarella sticks.

Also, this year, lots of ridiculous outfits:

Buck Buck Moose at Volt
Cooper and I spent one day after the Christmas party licking our wounds, then we got back into it, heading to Frederick for a book signing dinner at Volt. Hank Shaw, the blogger behind Hunter Angler Gardener Cook and the author of several cookbooks that we love, was at the restaurant, and Bryan Voltaggio was in the kitchen, cooking recipes adapted from the book.

It was our first time at Volt and we took Cooper's cousin Sarah, who lives in Frederick, with us. Dinner was great - fun and interesting and delicious - and we were especially happy to have another go at the venison lasagna from the No Kid Hungry dinner was just a warm-up. That stuff is so good.

R. House
This fall also marked the opening of R. House, the food hall in Remington.

I've been twice now - once on opening night with Nikki Marks (of Madame BBQ/Mindgrub fame) and again before seeing the Hampden lights with Mike, Alicia, Maggie and Dixon (Cooper was sick, so he stayed home).

They've done a great job over there. It's casual and easy and the food is good. Technically, it's a food court, but it's such a cool one!

I've tried a bunch of different things so far and have liked all of them. The only thing I've photographed, though, is the shawarma from ARBA. It's great.

Clavel at The Charmery
After R. House but before the lights, Dixon, Mike, Alicia, Maggie and I dropped by The Charmery, where they were in the middle of a busy Clavel pop-up. Mexican cinnamon ice cream, wedding cookies, Mexican hot chocolate, lots of other things that were great - unsurprisingly, this was a collab that worked.

I turned 41 this year, which means I've been celebrating my birthday at McGarvey's for 20 years straight. TWENTY YEARS.

This year was a fun one, even though bad weather and illness meant a lot of people couldn't make it. But still, a bunch of high school friends joined Cooper and me for oysters, crab dip and Aviators at McGarvey's, oyster shooters at Middleton's (pictured), quite a bit of Irishness at Galway Bay and a mildly sloppy close to the evening, featuring good red wine and French whiskey at Harry Browne's.

We always close out the night at Harry Browne's, which is by far the nicest place we go, and we're always a little unruly when we get there (not too unruly, but still). The bartenders there, though, they are fabulous. The one working during my birthday celebration was a total pro - keeping us engaged and put together and having fun. He was the best.

Matisse/Diebenkorn and Parts & Labor
Earlier this year, when word got out about the Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibit at the BMA, my brother and sister and I hatched a plan to meet there while they were in Maryland for Christmas. And we actually made that happen!

The Friday before Christmas, Dixon and I met Tom and Cail and Erin and Clark at the museum. The first thing we did was head to the exhibit itself; I was completely blown away.

I love both Matisse and Diebenkorn; I wrote college papers about both painters (though not about them together). They're two of my favorites, so purely from an aesthetic sense, I enjoyed the exhibit. It's pretty.

But even if I wasn't a particular fan of either of the artists, I would've been impressed. It is so smart and hangs together so well. It reminded me why art history fascinates me. I'm planning to go back again - this time without a 10 year old boy (who was not quite as enamored as I was). I could spend days just soaking it in.

After the exhibit, we wandered through the Cone Collection and the Contemporary Wing; Tom and Erin hadn't been to the museum since they were kids and Cail and Clark had never been. Dixon had a blast in the contemporary collection, taking pictures of the pieces with his iPod and getting really into it. I'm not sure I realized how interactive it is. It's great for kids and I loved watching him have fun with the art.

After all of that, we headed over to a very busy Parts & Labor, where I got their version of a pit beef sandwich and it was killer. Highly recommended!

New Year's Eve
Christmas Eve, Christmas day and the few days after passed in a bit of a blur. Cooper and I both end up working a lot during the week between Christmas and New Year's, but we also always have friends in town, so we're out a lot. This year, that meant seeing people from Denver and Seattle - and also doing a lot of work.

New Year's Eve, we had friends (with kids) over here for a dinner showcasing various cuts of meat from the Jack Straw Farm cow we split with friends. (Oh yeah, we have a freezer that is jam-packed with beef right now.)

The meat was very good, as was the Barefoot Contessa sauce I made with it and the Barefoot Contessa cake Alicia made for dessert. Ina is everywhere these days.

But the highlight of the night wasn't on our plates - it was the kids. Piper, Hadley and Maggie went live on Facebook a couple times and made tons of videos, including one at midnight, when Cooper sabered a magnum of Champagne.

In retrospect, we probably should've opened that big boy earlier. Everybody went home at like 12:15.

Overall, it was a big quarter. On New Year's Day, all we could pull ourselves together to do was order some Chinese food. We're exhausted.

But we're not slowing down. This weekend, we'll be celebrating Kyle's birthday at Bar Vasquez. And after that...who knows. I'm sure it'll be something good.

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