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

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