Today Sean had the day off, so we decided to make our first trip into the big city.
Things did not go as planned.
First off, on Friday Sean mentioned to a coworker our plans for exploring the city. The coworker made one of those half restrained 'ouch' faces when he heard we'd planned to walk around, and delicately suggested we keep an eye on our surroundings as neighbourhoods can be very different from one street to the next.
As we first entered the city, we drove by nice green parks, college campuses and tidy row houses. The very next street over, the row houses had ply board for windows, chain link over the doors and people outside actively stealing cars as we drove by at 11 am on a Monday. This is when I started singing my 'I'm afraid of Baltimore' song, and rocking in my seat.
The rest of the drive was more of the same; a couple of nice streets that you could see yourself living on, then a couple of streets that looked like Vancouver's downtown east side, if you threw some guns into the mix. Ok, I didn't see any guns, but then again, if I had, would I be blogging right now? I don't know.
Today we'd decided to explore the neighbourhoods of Hampden & Homewood on the North Western side of Baltimore. We'd mainly decided on this because we had dinner reservations nearby at arguably the best restaurant in the city, and figured we could find more than enough to do in the area for a day.
Everything was closed. Every museum, art gallery, cool specialty shop, historical landmark- hell, even Baltimore's Washington Monument is closed Mondays. As it happens, everything in the County is closed on Sundays, and everything in the City is closed Mondays.
What an spectacular mix of bad luck and poor planning.
We stopped at Hampden's iconic Cafe Hon to regroup and have some lunch. This is the cafe made famous by the 'Hon's' of the area's signature rockabilly hybrid look & attitude. Apparently, in the summer months it's not uncommon to see droves of tattooed ladies in 50's dresses with wicked beehives, often sporting props (in the cafe there was a pic of a lady who had a tin of Old Bay- Baltimore's favourite seasoning- in her hive.). The cafe's atmosphere was fun, but the food was horrible and overpriced- not a good combination. While picking at our lunches, we combed through our guidebook to find that pretty much anything we'd want to see elsewhere in Baltimore... was also closed on Mondays. The only things open were the aquarium and the zoo, and we weren't really in the mood. We thought about walking around the inner harbour- a very touristy area that would definitely have shops open, but we weren't feeling very confident in our ability to stay on the good streets, and decided to leave our wandering until we could learn more about the city.
So... we went to Ikea.
Anticlimactic isn't it? Well, we needed a couple things that we couldn't order online (namely a coffee table and a full-length mirror) and it was only a 20 minute drive (45 minutes from home). Say what you like about Ikea, but I love it. Sure, I'd rather buy my furniture at a boutique, or from a craftsman, but not only can we not really afford it, but we have no idea where we are going to be in 5 years. Ikea furniture is easy to customize, and if you can't take it with you, then you're $200 in the hole and not $2000.
After 3 hours of Ikea we were tired and hungry. We headed back to Hampden for dinner at Woodberry Kitchen.
Dinner erased all evils.
WK is an extremely popular restaurant here, featuring local & seasonal meat and produce. It takes more that 2 months to get a weekend reservation (if you don't mind eating at 8:15pm). If you want prime hours, I have no idea how far in advance you'd have to book. Fortunately for us, Mondays are not quite as bad, and I was able to get a res for an early dinner only 3 weeks in advance.
The location is really cool; a re-purposed factory or warehouse. The walls are the original brick, and the ceiling is super high- maybe 4 regular stories. The kitchen is open, and even on a Monday we could see the Chef/Owner Spike Gjerde hard at work by the brick wood burning oven. There was a very impressive 2-story...? what the hell would you call it? Well it's function was to hold cords of wood for the stove, but it was big and beautiful and imposing. The place was decorated with old tools, but not overdone or cheesy. Just enough to give you something cool to notice. Behind me were giant floor to ceiling leaded glass windows letting in lots of light.
The food was simple, but (almost) perfectly executed. We started with brick oven roasted asparagus with a chopped egg & tarragon dressing. I can't explain to you how amazing asparagus is when you roast it in a freaking million degree oven. I roast it all the time at home, and grill it too, but it doesn't nearly compare to the results they got at WK. The flavour was rich and nutty, and tips were so crispy they almost disintegrated on your tongue. My only complaint was there was a bit too much pepper for my liking, which overpowered the tarragon in the dressing. Still, a very nice dish. Our meal came with complimentary water service (this means they bring you your choice of flat or sparkling water, and refill your glass for you whenever needed- usually something you have to pay for.) and 3 kinds of house made bread- an italian with sesame seeds (my favourite- the seeds get so nice and toasty! Yum!), a spelt and a boston brown. The bread was just the thing to sop up a little of that chopped egg dressing- such a simple but delicious sauce, I'm definitely doing that at home soon.
For supper Sean had Mac & Cheese (after talking all afternoon about eating more pig, he went with the pasta because it had been a long day, and it's one of his best comfort foods) from the 'Meatless Monday' special menu, and I had Scallops with ramps, hen of the woods mushrooms, radishes, pork belly and tarragon mayonnaise. Sean loved his Mac & Cheese made with aged gouda and a golden crispy breadcrumb topping. But...
MY SCALLOPS WERE AMAZING.
They really were. I've never had them so perfectly caramelized, or expertly cooked. They were a 10. (I'd give them an 11, but that would be ridiculous.) The outside was so crisp, and the inside soft, supple and sweet. The ramps were silky and smothered in butter. The radishes and mushrooms were lightly cooked, and lightly seasoned so they could speak for themselves and balance out the more powerful flavours of the pork and the ramps. I loved the tarragon mayonnaise; the perfect compliment to all the dish's components.
I got a really good laugh when I gave a taste of my scallops to Sean, who typically does not like seafood. I've been wanting to make a scallop recipe at home, and I hoped that the best scallops I've ever had might convince Sean he's missing something. He chewed thoughtfully, and then likened them to 'Sea Gelatin'. Not in an entirely bad way though, so maybe there is hope.
For dessert, Sean had a wonderful parfait of malt flavoured ice cream, peanut caramel, and homemade marshmallow cream- they even bruleed the top. I had a couple bites, and it was marvelous. I could have had dessert (the dinner portions were small), but to be honest, nothing appealed to me and I was in a bit of a snit. I was cranky because several of the desserts featured cranberries, which I didn't think was appropriate since they are way out of season. I don't know why it ticked me off so much (even I could tell I was having an unreasonable reaction), but Sean suggested it was because subconsciously the thought of cranberries made me homesick. I think I'll go with that. Don't worry, I behaved myself- no plate throwing or filibustering- just no dessert :(
The best part- only a 25 minute drive from home, and free valet parking. We used to drive all the way to Seattle for a meal of this calibre (and we won't even talk about the price of parking). I look forward to going again... maybe we can get another reservation... September perhaps?