Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Charleston in Baltimore: Another winner

We dined at Charleston, the best restaurant in Baltimore (easily) and possibly in the mid-Atlantic, with Mom and Dad, catching up on much family business that had taken place over the past month or so.

Our favorite waitperson, Leslie, had moved rooms so we dined in a small back room lined with wine bottles and with only two other tables (both quite large -- 8-10 covers each). One table went through an inordinate amount of wine, so much so that they had to keep the bottles on a side table in the corner. In due course we recognized famous wine writer and rater Robert Parker who was dining with the staff of his Wine Advocate...well, that certainly explains the massive wine consumption.

At our table consumption was comparatively modest. We started with a bottle of Pinot Gris from Zind-Humbrecht and it went so well with everything that we continued with a second bottle. The Charleston format, most refreshing, is not to divide food into courses but to allow diners to pick their own multi-course formats from among the list of available options. Menus are priced according to the number of courses chosen, starting at $74 for 3 courses (plus dessert, which everyone gets) and going up at the rate of $15 per extra course.

Well, I apologize that I cannot fully report on what everyone ate because there were too many courses crossing the table for me to take accurate notes. I do remember that Michael had the seasonal menu of five courses (plus dessert) which is a relative bargain at $89, but I wanted too many things that were not on that menu. Michael did admit later that it was probably one course too many for him to enjoy comfortably, as he ended up being only able to manage a little sorbet for dessert. My mom started, as usual, with fried green tomatoes with crabmeat which is one of Chef Cindy Wolf's signature dishes although not often on the actual menu.

I started with...well, I'm embarrassed to admit I can't remember the first course. I think it was a salad of some type. I then followed up with tuna, then duck breast, then buffalo tenderloin. The last one was of the finest pieces of meat I have ever had, as tender as a filet mignon but with infinitely more flavor. My dad had the same two final courses with a salad as a starter. For dessert I had a warm Venezuelan chocolate cake....with the traditional, possibly even cliched, molten center. However this was more cakelike (i.e., more cooked) than the traditional cake and was accompanied by sublime, and quite appropriately bitter, coffee ice cream.

Service as usual was highly professional although the flutter of activity around Robert Parker's table made us feel a bit like second class citizens for a while. On the other hand we did get 3 separate visits from the chef, which is unusual.

For a wide variety of options, a flexible menu, a pleasant setting with perfect service, Charleston is hard to beat.

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