Sunday, August 17, 2008

Charleston: An Unbeliveably Great Restaurant!

Sometimes, you may feel like heading out of beautiful Frederick with its hopping restaurant scene for something upscale and delicious. My friends, it's time to make a trip to Baltimore.

Hands down, no contest, no question, my favorite restaurant of all time is Charleston in Baltimore's extended Inner Harbor neighborhood. Not only does Chef Cindy Wolf kick a little boot-ay in the food department (I dig a chick in charge), but the wine is incredible. The service? Impeccable, proud, but completely relaxing.

I've had the pleasure of dining at Charleston, which features gussied up "low-country" cuisine several times. I would eat there all the time if budget allowed, but unfortunately, this is a prime example of getting what you pay for. You pay a fortune (easily $150 per person if you go with the tasting menu & wine pairing -- which you SHOULD!), but you will remember the meal, I promise. Here's a quote from their web site:

Described by Zagat as “culinary heaven”, Cindy Wolf’s Charleston puts the emphasis on personal choice and personal service. Chef Wolf has evolved her own style of cooking reflecting the influence of her travels and culinary experiences. Most recently Chef has been nominated as the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region for 2006.

Improvisational dining is the concept at the heart of the menu format which balances heavy and light preparations and allows each guest to dine according to their own preferences. Charleston offers a list of more than 600 bottles – which can be enjoyed in accompaniment to dinner or savored in the lounge, where there is a large selection served by the glass. Charleston's d├ęcor reflects Cindy’s own taste taking simple natural tones and echoes of the jazz era mixed with Southern grace.

The first time that I cried over food was at Charleston. I ordered the Sauternes-poached foie gras with vanilla toast and mango jam (sounds snotty of me, doesn't it?) but declined the recommended glass of Sauternes to accompany the dish (I was driving and I'm a safety girl). After a little gentle pressure from the server, and my continued declines, I thought the issue was over. But, when the dish was presented, the server brought both my friend Erica and I each a glass of the wine, on the house. She insisted (gently) that it really would make the dish sing. Hot damn! Girlfriend knew what she was talking about! It was the first time that I had such an unexpected flavor combination, and the wine brought it all together. At that moment I swore my allegiance to this Baltimore gem for as long as it is around. We ate so much that evening that ehre was no room for dessert. Me! No room for dessert? Are you kidding me?

My lottery fantasy? Every week, I get to go to Charleston with friends and have a car drive us to and from so that we can all have the seven course tasting menu with wine. Holy Toledo -- THAT is a lotto fantasy!

One last tidbit on the fabulousness: I am addicted to all things hazelnut -- I just love them! After coming to the dessert course on the tasting menu, the featured item didn't really speak to me (it must have been fruit one way or another). I asked if perhaps they had a little something with hazelnut. Our waiter (sooooo fantastic) went to the kitchen, returned just a moment later and apologized profusely that no hazelnut desserts were on the menu that evening but gave me a few other options, all with wines that worked with the new desserts. I was happy! But the kicker? Our waiter said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Chef says that she would be happy to have a hazelnut dessert for you the next time you dine with us. Just let us know that you would like one when you make your reservation." Well, I'm going back soon, and I have hazelnuts on the brain!

Want a little more info? Here's a link to their site so that you can check it all out for yourself. Let me know what you think and if I'm delusional, or if you had one of the best meals of your life, just an hour away.

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