Thursday, January 29, 2009

Baltimore Restaurant Week - The Wine Market

Every year, restaurants around the Baltimore metro area participate in a week in which diners who might not normally be inclined to try a more adventurous or expensive establishment, have the ability to get a 3 course meal for around 30 bucks. Having argued with a number of friends over which place to sample, we finally settled on The Wine Market in Locust Point. I had never been here before, but the restaurant week menu spoke to me immediately in a way that none of the other places quite managed. Kim and I, along with her brother Denny and his girlfriend Kelly, set out with high hopes of a first class meal. Sadly what was delivered was high on ambition, but mostly missed the mark in execution.

For the first course, Kim opted to try the lobster bisque, while I was certainly not going to miss what was described on the menu as "Duck Confit Galette with Japanese Rice Porridge and Plum Mirin Glaze." We made an attempt to order different things on the menu so each of us could get a little sample of everything.

The lobster bisque was just lazy. The restaurant where I work makes seafood bisques on a regular basis, and they amazingly, wait for it, contain seafood! The Wine Market might argue that this was a fine puree, but honestly the only flavors that came through strongly were that of shrimp and lobster base (the kind that comes in a plastic tub). The squeeze bottle action on top of the soup did add a nice note in terms of presentation, but did little for the taste.

The duck confit dish was one of the reasons that I had initially been attracted to the menu. Anything roasted in its own fat has to be delicious right? Unfortunately it was again, a bit of a let down. Calling this dish a galette really confused me. A galette would usually indicate a pastry crust involved in the dish in some respect, but there was nothing on the duck other than duck. The meat itself was the most disappointing aspect of the dish. When you cook something in fat, it should be moist and tender. The duck was indeed tender, but it was quite dry and did nothing to excite the palate. My intuition was that it had been cooked quite a long time before it arrived on my plate, and had been quickly blasted in the oven prior to serving. The rice porridge and miso glaze actually made a very nice interplay with the taste of the duck. Had the duck been cooked properly, this dish could be a true shining point.

For entrees I chose to try the "Tuscan Braised Monkfish" and Kim went for "Prime Sirloin Roasted with Fine Herbs."

This was my first time trying monkfish. I have read quite a bit about the delights of monkfish liver, which was sadly not a part of this dish, but I certainly cannot fault the chef for not including something just because I wanted to try it. If you have never seen a picture of a monkfish, they are horrid and ugly creatures with huge gaping mouths and razor teeth. For such a ferocious looking fish, I was really quite shocked at how mild the flavor was. I would compare the taste as very similar to Mahi Mahi or Tilapia. It is a typical white fish without a great deal of notable flavor accents. This being said, the fish itself could have used a bit more seasoning. The rest of the dish was really the highlight. The fish was served with "lacinato, prosciutto, eggplant, and fennel topped with a garlic aioli crostini and fried capers ." The resulting flavor of this side dish was almost reminiscent of a tapanade. It was very nice to spoon a little bit of it over the crostini and take a nice crunchy nibble. One word that was included in the description that was painfully absent in the dish was prosciutto. I mean, pork fat makes everything taste better! I'm skeptical as to whether the prosciutto was in the dish at all, and if it was, I certainly didn't notice it. Kelly had the same dish and agreed that she didn't notice any flavor resembling anything from a pig. This dish was again one that tasted as if it was almost there and just missed being fully realized.

I only had a few bites of the sirloin. To the chef's credit, the meat was cooked absolutely perfectly to the ordered medium rare. The "pinenut polenta" the beef sat atop was also quite moist and served as a refreshingly different starch accompaniment. As with the monkfish, the main problem with the beef was that it was just plain bland! Wars were fought over spices and seasonings guys, use them.

Before talking about desert at The Wine Market it should be made clear that I am not normally a fan of sweets in any way. Nine times out of ten, I never order any type of desert at a restaurant and normally enjoy a snifter of Gran Marnier while everyone else at the table gobbles chocolate and ice cream. This being said, the deserts we experienced on this night were quite simply a revelation.

I ordered a "Toasted Walnut and Honey Stuffed Roasted Pear - with Shaved Pecorino Cheese and Spiced Wassail Reduction." I am all for roasting fruits. If done correctly, the natural sugars caramelize beautifully and create a whole new world of flavor without damaging the original fruit's delights. The sharp bite of the pecorino cheese played against the sweetness of the pear and the earthiness of the walnuts perfectly. A large pat on the back to whomever came up with this one.

Kim went for a more simple desert option, but that isn't to say that it is something you would find on too many other menus. A "House Made Spiced Apple Cider Sorbet" brought back memories of going to farms as a kid and tasting the fresh made cider from that season's harvest. The flavor was sharp, light, and fresh. It made for an excellent cleansing of the palate at the end of a meal.

The final course really saved this place for me and I would consider going back to sample the menu outside of restaurant week. They feature an excellent wine selection and have a 20 percent discount on all menu items on Monday nights. If The Wine Market would have just gone a little bit bolder with flavors, I think this review would have been much more celebratory.

World of Eats Rating - 6/10

The Wine Market
921 E. Fort Avenue Suite 135
Baltimore, MD 21230
Phone: 410-244-6166

Wine Market on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Famous Yakitori One - Maryland Ave, Baltimore

My friend Eric had sent me a link about a new Yakitori restaurant that recently opened in Baltimore. For those who might not know, Yakitori is a wonderful Japanese culinary tradition of grilling various types of skewered meats and veggies. Having spent some time in Tokyo earlier this year, I was enthralled at the prospect of having this type of eatery virtually on my doorstep.

Tonight I made the trip downtown with Kim (my girlfriend) and my buddy Gerry to check out if this place was merely some kind of novelty, or if it could truly be the real deal. I am extremely pleased to say that this restaurant has hit the nail on the head in every respect.

Almost immediately after arriving, the owner came over to the table to greet us and explain the concept behind the restaurant. He also explained that as his place has only been open for about a month, that they are still working on some new ideas and menu items. He told us that he would bring over some new items free of charge in exchange for our feedback. This type of hands on approach with one's customers surely shows an owner who cares about who he is serving and what is being served in his establishment. Bravo sir.

The menu has a large variation of a-la-carte Yakitori choices, combination platters, Japanese Entrees, as well as some Korean choices. Being that it was our first experience with the place, we decided to stick with the Yakitori combination, as well a few Japanese entrees to share.

The first item to arrive at our table was one of the aforementioned "test" dishes. This was explained to us as a New York Prime Steak, partially frozen to be sliced paper thin, wrapped around scallions, and then quickly grilled. I don't know what further testing really needs to be done but this should be a signature dish of the restaurant. It was the perfect size for a single bite, the quality of the meat was excellent, and scallions complimented the steak very well.

Almost immediately afterward, another new dish arrived on the house. A type of fried tofu (I don't recall the name) sitting in a soy based sauce. It arrived with piping hot centers, and was mild in flavor without being bland. I am not normally a fan of softer tofu, but this was quite nice.

Gerry ordered some soft shell crab. I normally wouldn't have gone for this choice as the crab is not locally in season right now. To my surprise the crab was quite good and the tempura batter was not too heavy. The portion was actually larger than what is pictured, but it looked so tempting that my fellow diners and I had to jump in and try it before it occurred to me that I had yet to take a picture.

We wanted to try a little bit of everything when it came to the Yakitori itself, so we opted for the Combination D platter ($29.95). This consisted of a large array of different meats and 30 skewers in total. I should say now that the menu prices here are insanely low. The combination was more than enough to feed the three of us. All of the skewers were tender and did not taste like they had ever seen a freezer. It took me right back to nights in Shibuya.

We finished our dinner with Okonomoyaki. This is a type of Japanese pancake with various toppings finished off with a Japanese mayo. It was probably a bit much to order after all that we had already eaten, but I made room. Okonomoyaki is not in anyway light fare, so I would suggest bringing an appetite if you're going to attempt to tackle this dish.

Famous Yakitori One is exactly the type of place that the Baltimore area has been screaming for. There are no real attempts at being flashy or overly complicated. The dishes were all very straightforward, fresh, and delicious. I will be returning in the very near future, and I suggest you make the trip to try this place as well. It was noticeable in some respects that the eatery is still finding itself, but if they are managing to get this much right this early on, the future should be very bright for Famous Yakitori One.

Yakitori goes best with a group of friends and some beers. Sadly the only draft choice at the time we visited was Coors Light. They had an nice selection of bottled Japanese beer, but I would love to see some draft Asian beer available down the line. This place is open until 2am so its the perfect setting after a night out in the bars. Go seek out this awesome food!!!

World of Eats Rating - 9/10

Famous Yakitori One
2101 Maryland Ave
Baltimore, MD 21218
(410) 332-1100

Famous Yakitori One on Urbanspoon