Bottega

Make your reservations. NOW. It take weeks to get in and believe me, you don’t want to miss this BYOB restaurant. We have taken to making future reservations after every meal at Bottega just to ensure we snare a spot.

The menu changes frequently so everything was new at our recent visit. The consensus? We would absolutely order everything again. And again. And again.

Lamb tartare — toothsome, mild and delicious.

Grilled radicchio salad with gorgonzola — THIS is a salad I will dream about for months to come. Seriously. I am still thinking about that lovely combo of bitter grilled lettuce and sweet pillows of salty, creamy blue cheese. Salad dreams do come true, apparently.

Skate wing with brown butter and capers — buttery, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Bavette steak with red wine sauce — simple, meaty and perfect.

My dinner of the grilled salad and steak easily ranks among the top 10 meals I’ve enjoyed in the past 12 months. Probably in the top 3. It’s quite possibly #1.

As you can see … oops …

Bottega

Paris in Baltimore

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Nothing quite beats an evening of good wine, good food and great friends — especially when there is a cozy fireplace involved and a lovely Parisian atmosphere. The four of us enormously enjoyed our meals at Petit Louis and, in fact, closed the house down. We plowed through our cheese course finale and then lingered over coffee, tea and one sinfully indulgent chocolate Pot de Creme. Four forks please!

Oh the delights of French bistro fare.

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I started with my absolute favorite salad — frisee, lardons, poached egg and Roquefort. Salty, crispy, crunchy, creamy deliciousness in a bowl. My husband, who rarely orders what I do, followed suit. He recalls trying to steal (unsuccessfully) this salad from me the last time we dined at the restaurant. He is now wise. Our friends enjoyed a house-made country pate with a tiny crock of cornichons as well as a beet salad with fresh goat cheese.

Next up, steak tartare. Heaven in raw meat form.

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It was steak tartare night and three of us took advantage. I am a huge fan of the stuff and have sampled it all over Baltimore, NYC, Washington D.C., California and even France, where it’s often served with a lovely raw egg yolk glistening on top. Although I have never had a bad steak tartare,  it can be somewhat unpleasant at times. The delicate flavors of raw beef can easily be crushed by overly pungent shallots or other oddball ingredients, such as smoked oysters or (unbelievably) fried falafel balls.

The preparation at Petit Louis, however, was classic and perfect. The beef was hand-chopped and seasoned mildly with delicate shallots, capers and just the right amount of Dijon mustard. It’s a light meal (well, it is if you ignore the enormous cone of hot, salty pommes frites) yet feels indulgent. I am looking forward to a return trip, and soon! Did ya get that, dear husband?

À bientôt!

 

Derailed Dinner Plans

Last night I was supposed to make Italian-style stuffed peppers with roasted cauliflower.

Well, instead of a peaceful evening in my kitchen, glass of wine in hand, I was at the doctor’s office, getting fitted for a walking boot. UGH! I am the proud owner of a broken foot. Apparently, I run too much. It seems as if I upped my mileage too quickly and thus, cracked a bone in my foot.

Needless to say, there was no cooking for me last night. Instead, we went to Samos, one of our cozy, local spots for a casual Greek meal. It’s BYOB and they turn out a fabulous whole grilled fish. This time, however, I opted for the comfort of roast lemon chicken and vegetables while my husband hoovered up the lamb chops. And, of course, we cannot dine at Samos without first enjoying their Greek salad — feta, anchovies, olives, oh my!

 

 

Jack’s Bistro — a Neighborhood Favorite

The last time my husband and I ventured to Paris, I spent hours pouring over more than 100 restaurant reviews, meticulously highlighting passages and taking notes in an attempt to suss out the city’s prime local eats.

The neighborhood joints we discovered were indeed spectacular, but sometimes I forget that we have just the type of hideaway I hunt down when traveling right here in Canton — Jack’s Bistro.

It’s a cozy, neighborhood gem with a kitchen that consistently turns out both innovative dishes and those that feel like old friends.

In the mood for fun and playful? Take a bite of their 100% ground bacon burger. That’s right, it’s an all-out baconfest for pig lovers. No beef between those buns.

Searching for some comfort? Go for the Guinness-braised filet mignon. This is my personal favorite menu staple and it’s perfect every time. The meltingly-tender beef, the velvety sauce, the smoky bacon grits — it’s an entirely lick-worthy plate, something I have been known to do on occasion.

Or always.

Have a hankering for some exotic funk? There are several options on the ever-changing menu for those with adventurous palates.

The spicy Somboon mussels offer an incredible tangle of Asian flavors with fresh herbs, sour citrus, pungent fish sauce and a hit of heat. These plump morsels are not to be missed. It’s hard not to order this appetizer over and over again.

Of course, when you repeat, you forgo an opportunity to try something new on the menu, a dilemma my husband and I both often face at Jack’s. It’s a good problem to have. Mussels or a fresh cucumber ribbon salad? Grilled kale with apricots or chocolate mac and cheese? My favorite steak or duck cassoulet? Or those chewy ramen noodles in a heady broth?  It’s always an internal tug of war.

Guinness-Braised Filet

Guinness-Braised Filet

On a recent visit, the Guinness filet won the entree battle, but I did manage to venture over to the dessert menu and sample something new — durian fruit creme brulee.

I love that this kitchen even gets kooky with dessert. I was too intrigued to pass this one up. It was durian fruit afterall, the southeast Asian fruit that some say emits a stench so vile it’s been compared to festering raw sewage, among other choice aromas.

I so needed to sample this exotic treat.

There was a touch of barnyard on the nose, but otherwise it was mild, slightly sweet, with a hint of nuts and a whiff of onion in the mix. I do give the kitchen points for creativity, but the flavor profile wasn’t what I look for in a dessert. Durian fruit aside, the creme brulee itself was absolutely luscious. If they ever put a traditional creme brulee on the menu, my waistline is in real trouble.

I don’t know how much longer the dessert will be available, but if you’ve ever had the desire to try this peculiar fruit, don’t miss your chance. I suggest you hightail it on over before it disappears.

Durian Fruit Creme Brulee

Durian Fruit Creme Brulee

Although on my most recent visit I devoured my go-to steak, I am eager to return as I now have my eye on new menu items. I look forward to soon slurping up the Malaysian coconut-milk curry and tasting whatever creation my husband chooses. And that, quite simply, is the beauty of Jack’s. The kitchen seduces you with its pure comfort food and consistently lures you back with intriguing menu surprises. It’s bold. It’s delicate. It’s downright wacky sometimes. I am so lucky this bistro is in my neighborhood.

And if you live in Baltimore, so are you.

 

Oh for the Love of Barn-yard Funk!

I woke up this morning with the taste of hoof in my mouth. Normally, this would be unwelcome, perhaps even somewhat offensive.

However, when the taste of sheepy/goaty/heifery goodness lingers after a night of big-time cheese eating, you know you tucked into the good stuff. And that we did. Oh how I do love my cheese with a firm slap of barn-yard funk.

My husband and I, along with another couple, enjoyed a self-guided “walking food tour” of Baltimore’s Harbor East last night. If you haven’t tried this yet, it’s high time. Simply pick a restaurant as a starting point, grab a few seats at the bar, order some nibbles and then move on. The sheer number of restaurants in close proximity to one another in Harbor East makes this a prime location for a foodie jaunt.

We started with oysters at Oceanaire and ended with a selection of gorgeous cheeses at Charleston.  In between, we indulged in ceviche at Talara, charcoal-grilled langoustines and calamari at Ouzo Bay and a buttery pile of salumi at Cinghiale.

It’s tough to come up with a favorite, but I do have a love affair going on with Cinghiale’s prosciutto de Parma. I also can’t wait to get my hands on another drippy spoonful of the funkified French cheese, Epoisses. Thank you, dear Epoisses, for the stinky bloom on my tongue.

Epoisses

Epoisses