Monkey Turds, Meat & Whole Fish (not necessarily in that order)

Monkey turds aside, there is nothing like having out-of-town guests to make you fall even more in love with your home city. We played tour guide and tourist all weekend as we whisked around my visiting mother-in-law and her boyfriend in an attempt to charm her with Charm City.

So was she charmed? Hell if I know. But I certainly was.

MEAT

The weekend kicked off at Jack’s Bistro on Friday night for dinner and half-priced bottles of wine. Whoo hoo! The conversation went something like this:

Mother-in-law (MIL) “So, what do you recommend here?”

Me: “The Guinness-braised steak is probably the best steak I have ever had in my life.”

My Husband (MH): “Get the steak. It’s amazing. We come here for the steak.” (My dear husband has actually said he prefers this steak at Jack’s to the traditional bistecca Florentine we wolfed down in Italy — whhaaatttt????)

MIL: “Hmmm, maybe I’ll get the mussels or the duck. I wonder if they are any good? I wonder how they are prepared?”

MH: “Get the steak mom. It’s seriously good.”

Me: “I crave this steak once a week. We like to come here on Sundays for steak night. This steak is out of this world.”

MIL’s boyfriend: “Sold. I am getting the steak.”

MIL: “Hmmm. I wonder what I should get. Is there anything else you recommend?”

Me: “It’s hard to go wrong here, but it’s also hard for us to come and NOT order the steak. It is truly THAT GOOD.”

We went round and round like this for awhile. Ultimately, the three of us ordered the steak and swooned at the first bite. She, on the other hand, ordered the duck and then proceeded to frown at the poor waterfowl all evening. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy the duck, she said, it was just that after sampling the steak, she just couldn’t believe how utterly delicious it was. It was by far “the best steak” she had ever tried. She wished she had ordered the steak. HELLO?

Moving on …

MONKEY TURDS

Saturday afternoon we ventured down to Lexington Market  to try what are supposed to be Baltimore’s most famous crab cakes at Faidleys Seafood Market (something that has been on my Charm City To-Do list for the entire 8 years we have lived here). Once again, we had my mother-in-law and her boyfriend in tow.

If you have never been to Lexington Market, please go. It is truly a slice of old school Baltimore and is jam-packed with family owned stalls selling everything from fried chicken parts and huge vats of fruit salad to raw oysters, whole fresh fish, deep-fried turkey necks and every type of baked good imaginable. Not to mention the numerous stalls of prepared foods such as sushi, gyros and, of course, crab cakes.

But I digress. We made our way to Faidleys and briefly contemplated the very short menu as we stood in line to place our orders. They offered 3 types of crab cakes: a basic cake at 4 bucks a pop, some sort of back-fin cake at around $8 or so and their “award-winning” jumbo lump at $13. It took us 8 years to get to Faidleys, my husband and I were each getting a jumbo lump. My mother-in-law’s boyfriend was getting the jumbo lump. What did my MIL choose? The $4 version. Of course she did.

The three of us tucked into these gorgeous cakes packed full of rich, delicate crab meat. My MIL, once again, frowned at her food. Four bucks bought her what looked exactly like a constipated monkey turd — small, round, crusty and hard.

“Get the jumbo,” we all said. “It’s on us. You will likely never be back again.”

Nope, she went with the monkey turd. One look at her crusty brown ball and that familiar sour, dour look on her face rapidly returned. Lucky for her, her boyfriend grudgingly gave her a few forkfuls of the good stuff as she certainly wasn’t getting anywhere near our plates without sustaining a plastic fork injury. So please, if you wish to try a Faidleys cake, trust me, spring for the famous version. You won’t be disappointed.

WHOLE FISH: 

After the crab cake adventure we picked up whole fresh red snapper to bring home for dinner. I stuffed each fish with fresh herbs and lemon slices, rubbed them down with olive oil and salt and my husband grilled them to perfection. Delicious! All in all, it was a fabulous weekend in Charm City, monkey turd incident included.

Whole Red Snapper

Whole Red Snapper

Saturday Night Dinner & Dancing

Fleet Street Kitchen was, once again, a huge hit. Every dish we ordered was repeat-worthy. We enjoyed the following:

Appetizers:

fluke crudo & pork belly (the former light, tender and citrusy; the latter, sublimely bacony and crispy)

Main Courses:

Snapper with kale and clams and slow-roasted leg of lamb

Side of shaved brussels sprouts

Yum, yum and yum. What I love about this restaurant is that every item on the plate is noteworthy. Whether it’s the tiny dollop of creamy citrus, the silky pepper sauce, the crispy corn cake or the savory tomato jam — the chef clearly pays attention to every last detail and it shows.

This restaurant is quickly becoming one of my absolute favorites. Click here for my original restaurant review.

 After Fleet Street it was time to put on our dancing shoes (literally) and find another venue (unfortunately, there is no dancing to be had at Fleet Street Kitchen). We ventured to the newly renovated 13th Floor restaurant and lounge at the Belvedere Hotel. The space is gorgeous, with fabulous city views and a very swanky vibe. I can’t comment on the food, but the one glass of wine we ordered tasted like cheap boxed wine. However, the pianist was excellent — played a lot of Frank Sinatra — and we were able to get in a few Foxtrots and a Nightclub Two Step. I am hesitant to dine here, but would certainly return for cocktails and dancing.

Cinghiale

Seinfeld’s George Costanza always said he would drape himself in velvet if it was “socially acceptable.” Well, I would love to do the same, only with swaths of pig. Swap out the velvet for Cinghiale’s prosciutto de Parma and I am game.

Why oh why is their prosciutto so damn good? And why can I not find it like this anywhere else? Except in Italy, of course.

My husband and I spent 2 weeks in Italy and ate plates of prosciutto every day. We devoured the salty treat draped over melon, drizzled with bright green olive oil, piled high with fresh persimmon wedges and adorned only with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. It was silky, piggy goodness every time.

Well that’s how it is at Cinghiale, too. I have yet to dine with them and not order their prosciutto de Parma. The ribbons of pink pig are exactly what they should be — buttery, salty and meltingly tender. I read somewhere that Italian oinkers on the path to becoming prosciutto are fed parmesan cheese rinds to help flavor their flesh (lucky pigs). I believe it. There seems to be a hint of parmesan in every bite of good prosciutto and Cinghiale’s pig is no exception. Their prosciutto will haunt you.

Ok, enough with the prosciutto as it certainly isn’t the only noteworthy item at the restaurant. Between the four of us we enjoyed a variety of dishes including an outstanding trio of fish tartare ( I would definitely order this one again), a delicate homemade spaghetti topped with freshly shaved truffles (ditto) and tortellini filled with prosciutto, mortadella and ricotta in a luscious rosemary sauce (this is the one dish my husband cannot help but order over and over again). All four of us were seduced by the bone-in pork roast served over an espresso spaetzle, which I hope to see on the ever-changing menu again. I was able to stifle my urge to pick up my hunk of bone and gnaw this time, but I don’t see that happening again. I don’t have that kind of will power. I also didn’t have the will power to turn down the dessert cheese course. I hope you don’t either.

Start with the prosciutto. End with the cheese. Thankfully, it’s really hard to go wrong anywhere in between. Welcome to my favorite Baltimore restaurant.

Fleet Street Kitchen

Oh heavenly Fleet Street Kitchen, thank you for making my neighborhood your home.
Fleet Street Kitchen nails the restaurant world’s supreme triumvirate — outstanding food, impeccable service and an ambiance so inviting you can’t help but plan your next visit before you finish your meal. I am in love.
Each of us at our table of six were so smitten with our dishes we were compelled to pass around little bites of this and tastes of that, determined to woo one another with our choices. Woo we did. Fleet Street Kitchen makes it so easy.
Fabulous cocktails? Check. That was the best gimlet I have ever had the pleasure of sipping. Thankfully, my dear friend didn’t mind sharing as she had the mind to order the drink in the first place.
Winning appetizers? Hell yes. I cannot wait to return and sample more. The duck confit was stellar — moist and luscious without feeling remotely greasy or fatty. The sunchoke soup was not only delightfully savory and fresh, but also so beautiful to look at you hesitate (just for a second mind you) to dip in your spoon. And applause went all around the table for the chicken liver parfait.

Beautifully plated, mouth-watering entrees? Score again. When I return, I’ll have a tough time choosing between trying something new or going for the meltingly tender braised beef short ribs, the roasted lamb loin or the veal loin drizzled with a heavenly lobster veal sauce. The kitchen even pays serious attention to the vegetable side-dishes, which shine on their own. I am eager to attempt the shaved brussels sprouts salad at home.
Tempting desserts? Appears to be affirmative. I passed on dessert this time around, but I noticed the dark chocolate tart and lemon thyme cake both disappeared fast. Their cheese plate, however, has my name on it for next time, which cannot come soon enough. Go try it for yourself. There’s a very good chance I’ll be there too, either lingering over a gimlet at the bar or tucking into something wonderful at a table. If you spot a woman licking her plate, it’s probably me.

Oops …

I am a bad, bad food blogger. I ignored my own Tuesday night menu in favor of going out to dinner last night instead. I was too tired after work to deal with chopping vegetables, making a sauce and poaching eggs. Although, if I am completely honest with myself, the real reason was simply that I needed meat. After several days of vegetarian-ish meals, I was desperate to sink my carnivorous teeth into meat. Any meat! All meat! Preferably something beefy and bloody. Ahhhh, I found my satisfaction at Blue Hill Tavern, our favorite neighborhood restaurant.

As usual, Blue Hill did not disappoint. We love cozying up to the bar and enjoying their spectacular happy hour specials as much as we enjoy sitting down to a lovely, leisurely meal in the dining room (the Chateaubriand for two is one of our favorites). Last night, however, was a casual bar night. I had a hankering for their chopped salad followed by a bowl of the Spanish beef soup. This soup is beefy, tomatoey, spicy and absolutely perfect on a cold night. My husband, after contemplating between his two usual favorites — the Kobe beef burger and the crispy calamari salad — went with the squid. Clearly, he did not share my overwhelming desire  for a dose of meat. Traitor. Although, to be fair, he likely was still recovering from his “homemade” canned chicken nachos on Super Bowl Sunday. We are both looking forward to returning to Blue Hill soon to sample some of the new menu items, particularly the whole fish, blackened tuna and veal chop. That is, of course, if we can pass up the Chateaubriand.

So clearly, I nixed my original plan to dine on Tunisian poached eggs in favor of a bowl of meat. Oh well, it happens. Expect the dish to surface on another menu soon, especially since I already made the harissa sauce.  I promise to get back into the kitchen tonight.