Answer to quiz: everybody who took time to respond was correct! Downy Woodpecker indeed.. cute little bird..
So, somehow Monday evaporated in a flurry of meetings and a fun time spent passing out dictionaries to third graders at a school (a project of one of my local civic organizations). You couldn’t pay me enough to be a third grade school teacher.. Thank goodness there are dedicated people in the world.. teachers!! And, now Tuesday fades.. as I have said before where DOES that time go..
Anyway, as you might remember, last weekend we decided to go up to Baltimore to visit the American Craft Council Craft show, and an evening meal. With the restaurant Charleston out of the question we picked Fleet Street Kitchen which was number four in the Baltimore “B-word” List, and was very near our hotel. So after yet another board meeting Saturday morning we climbed in the MOMSTER II and headed north. A relatively hassle free drive found traversing Pratt street to President, and then on Aliceanna street quite easily, and even found a parking space in the parking garage that (barely) accommodated the MOMSTER. With no valet opportunities, we schlepped our luggage to the hotel through said garage. For once we really did “travel light” and had only one valise (nice word, eh?), a garment bag to DFD and (of course!) the road wine caddy. The downtown Courtyard is undergoing extensive remodeling so the lobby was a kind of nightmarish setting featuring black plastic drapes. The staff was pleasant and soon we found ourselves in a sixth floor room with a nice view. We had enough time for a small glass of wine, and then got DFD, and set out on foot for dinner. Just a block away, across from a Whole Foods Market was Fleet Street Kitchen (FSK).
And dear reader, it is at this point that I am unsure as to how to proceed. I have been thinking of how I would relate our experience, and still am not completely settled, so I’ll just have a go. Normally when we go to a highly rated restaurant, I am a sucker and eager to go along with the reviews and enjoy the experience, and not often dissapointed. Well, this one started off poorly and I am not sure I ever got over it. FSK is a large place in an old building. You enter into a little lobby with the station at the end, and we were greeted nicely, confirmed our reservation and idled a moment while the staff discussed whether or not we would be seated in “Ralph’s” or “Betty’s” station (I’m sorry, do this ahead of time). Immediately behind the station were stairs that led up to a larger dining room which looked very nice, but off to the right was another space with tables at street level with large windows for viewing same. That is where we were ushered. The tables were nicely set with linen and crystal, but somehow I had the feeling we were being shuttled to the “tourist section”, despite nice clothes and demeanor. Diners already seated there were nicely enoughed DFD, not slovenly, nor discourteous, but I couldn’t get by my feeling of being dumped. Shut up Bill, get over it, it will work. And indeed it did, but I never could crest that feeling of not being shown the (IMHO) best they had to offer. Priggish me?
With a couple of gaffes, the rest of the evening didn’t give me any reason to suspect we were being sloughed off but the damn tone was remained in my mind. We were seated at a two top along a long wall with a banquette on one side and chairs on the other. The tables were quite close together, just short of feeling crowded. We were greeted by our server and to be truthful I was still enough wound internally up that I don’t remember if he did a speech. Most likely not, or I would have remembered it. We were presented the menu and the “wine list”, in the form of an iPad. This was my second encounter with this form of wine list, and I am not sure I object. No, it’s not classical, but it does potentially allow a correct and current selection of the wines available. This tablet was quite organized and in fact is the same as what you see if you go to “wine list” on their web site. Very “clickable” and gets you to the individual bottle with photos and notes.
One could spend a long time browsing it.. At any rate, about this time we were asked if we would like a drink (desparately) and we ordered both MFO’s and my standard drinks. I always try to make it very clear I want my DRY Manhattan ON THE ROCKS, with A TWIST. Very good, sir. Soon(ish) he returned with what could be a gimlet, and an UP GLASS of a pinkish fluid that had a suspicious sweetish nose. Um, I think I asked for this on the rocks, and check with bartender to make sure only DRY vermouth was used. Very good, sir. It returned a much lighter color in a “rocks glass”. Now, I should state before going further (as I drone on and on) that reviews do give FSK a plus for cocktails. I think my “twist” was actually an orange zest, and the “rocks” was singular, one of those inch and a half cubes that are all the rage. Not bad, and the drink was passable. MFO said hers was quite sweet so I suppose they mucked about with that also. Okay, that’s fine. And in fact, finally calming down a bit called for another drink now that it was made to my taste.
As is our wont, we finally began to peruse the menu which was a one page affair with (12) starters, (10) entrees, and (4) “vegetables” (what we would normally call sides). In a sign of the times, the vegetables consisted of various preparations of Celery Root, Cauliflower, Kale, and Brussels Sprouts! Every single menu entry contained not only a description of the dish, but also its source. Very trendy these days, and what the restaurant apparently prides itself on: “The menu is an ever changing collection of seasonally inspired selections with a strong emphasis on locally sourced, ethically raised, sustainable ingredients”. Here’s a sample description of the short ribs: “Braised Beef Short Ribs – Liberty Delight Farms, MD; Roasted heirloom carrots, faro, date puree, carrot crumble”; not bad, short and to the point.
As our cocktails soaked in, we finally began to discuss. Food. MFO decided on a Heirloom Beet Salad (Cunningham Farms, MD), and an intriguing main course of “Crispy Farm Egg & Ricotta Gnudi” with Maitake Musthrooms, pea shoots, butter beans, and pine nuts (also Cunningham Farms). I decided on a diet busting appetizer of Duck Confit followed by the off the menu special Lamb Dish whose description I did not write down. Then the challenge of the wine. I began thumbing around the wine tablet and was sort of settling on the Pinot Section (go figure a pairing for those dishes!!) when I became aware of a gentleman behind me who turned out to be the sommelier. “were you thinking of a new world Pinot sir?”, yes, I kind of was. I had kind of narrowed in on an ‘09 Calera de Villiers Vineyard Mt. Harlan (for a hefty $96) and he said, “you know, you might like an Inman Family selection, it has some of the same characteristics, and is a much better value”, and pointed out both an ’08 Russian River Valley, and a Thorn Ridge Ranch, which were $72 and $73. For a dollar more, he said, the Thorn Ridge is nicer. Okay fine. We’ll do that. I was pretty impressed he steered us away from a much more expensive bottle which I was ready to pop for, and suggested a much lower priced one. And, without tasting the Calera, the Inman was very good. Nice body and fruit, it was very enjoyable. I told him I really appreciated his assistance and he seemed pleased.
The appetizers appeared about this time, and both were very good, although I thought my Confit was a bit on the dry side. It’s kind of a tough dish. The beet salad was fine. The entrees arrived in due time (as the Inman Pinot bottle decreased in volume). At this point, I swallowed hard and took out the camera and only got a reasonable picture of the lamb dish with ingredients I forget..
MFO’s crispy egg was worth a shot, and maybe I’ll give it to you with apologies to my shutter friends, crappy picture but maybe you get the idea of the dish..especially the "crispy egg".
somewhere in the background are the Gnudi To save you the trouble, Gnudi is “ a type of gnocchi made from ricotta cheese and a little bit of flour. The result is a dumpling that some describe as "nude" ravioli, or filling without the pasta — that is to say, light, fluffy, and creamy."
We actually quite enjoyed the meal… along with the conversation of the tables next to us.. Get over it!! As we were finishing, a slice of cheese cake like dessert with a candle was placed in front of us. Happy Birthday Sir! What the hell? It was VERY good, and I can only surmise that it was delivered to offset the mess with the cocktails. Who knows. Maybe the sommelier noted my appreciation of the wine and took pity on us. Speaking of which as we were leaving, he said “would you like to see the wine cellar?” OF course!! He led us down a flight of stairs into a long room with shelf after shelf of wine bottles. OMG. He gave us a little tour, but didn’t offer any souvenirs. He was a nice guy. Give them some respect. They work hard.
So what the heck. Despite the good food and wine, I never got over the perceived slight of seating us with “commoners”. Am I an idiot? (Don’t answer that….) If I spend over two hundred bucks for dinner and wine, I ought to leave satisfied and a feeling that I would come back. I would for the wine guy, the food was good, but darn it, it is fleeting… think I’ll go for Charleston again next time.. and through it all we remained