A tiny oasis of calm sits at the bottom of the Ambassador Apartments.
The owners of Truffles & Tea in Cross Keys have opened a new cafe at the bottom of the Ambassador Apartments in Homewood, where the floral shop Dutch Connection used to be, called Chocolatea (3811 Canterbury Road, 410-366-0095). As with their first business, this place offers a wide array of teas, plus some tasty gourmet truffles, but it also serves some nice light fare. Much of it is Asian—we really liked their miso soup—but there are also plenty of wraps and paninis. The atmosphere is bright and soothing, with cheerfully hued walls and relaxing music.
Rocket to Venus achieves orbit.
When Geoff Danek added a bar to his small Mexican eatery Holy Frijoles, it instantly drew a crowd. Clearly, Hampden had been ripe for a funky, très hip spot for drinks and some inexpensive chow. Now Danek's betting the neighborhood could use another such place—and judging by the crowds we've seen each time we've visited the newly opened Rocket to Venus (3360 Chestnut Avenue, 410-235-7887), he bet right.
Our 47 favorite places to eat this year.
Every year, we create a list of some 70 restaurants and divide it between our critics—Senior Editor Hannah Feldman, dining critic Bianca Sienra, and wine critic John Farlow—who set out to dine at every single one of them (anonymously, of course). And every year, we sit down together at the end and decide which places we loved, which we liked, and which we thought needed some work. This year marks the first time that the process has produced a list of less than 50 restaurants.
O.C. doughnuts invade Baltimore.
Want to hear our new definition of torture? It's sitting next to a box from the Fractured Prune (8705 Harford Road, 410-661-9999), knowing you have a 20-minute drive back to the office during which you may not shove doughnuts in your face, no you may not, no matter how delicious they smell, no don't eat them don't eat them noooo! See, the Prune—originally a popular Ocean City landmark—fries its doughnuts to order, so they're still fresh and warm when you leave the store. And this is when they're at their best—even a plain one is fluffy-crispy heaven when it's hot.
Three months of dining out for our "Best Restaurants" feature has put me in a mood to sit up on my soapbox and proclaim a few truths. As you can imagine, I pay particular attention to wine lists. My theory is that a passionate wine list promises a similar trait in the kitchen. A list populated by mundane mass-produced wine makes me worry that a similar disdain for the customer will arrive on my plate. The worst offenders hand over the wine list to one or two monster suppliers without a second thought.
For years, whenever someone asked me for vegetarian recommendations in Columbia (and in my particular job, you'd be surprised how often you get asked such things), two words instantly left my lips: Mango Grove. In fact, I'd recommend the popular vegetarian Indian eatery to all people, even those who eat meat. But I found that a lot of people weren't interested in a meat-free restaurant, no matter how tasty a bargain I said it was. Evidently, Mango Grove's owners discovered the same thing, because last year they opened Mirchi Wok right next door to their existing place.
Xanadu takes over where Club X left off.
Last February, we reviewed the new Club X Ultra Lounge; a year later, we're announcing the opening in the same spot of Xanadu (10 S. Calvert Street, 410-528-5110), a name that allows the new owners to keep the "X" motifs that decorated the old place. Indeed, much was retained from Club X—the small upstairs dance floor, the trippy colored light displays, the black leather couches in the upstairs lounge, the $185-for-Jack-Daniels bottle service. But there are changes.
Butcher’s Hill gets an Irish pub.
Tucked onto a hard-to-find, one-way street near—but not walking-distance near—the Hopkins medical campus, 2031 E. Fairmount Avenue has always been a challenging location. For years, Simon's Pub managed to lure patrons with its upscale yet reasonably priced New American menu; after the pub closed, new owners never seemed to be able to bring in the needed crowds to their Simon's of Butcher's Hill, despite the delicious New Orleans cuisine and frequent live jazz.
There’s nothing tame about this tea drink.
This winter, we've noticed more and more places offering tea that's definitely not for the tea totaller, in the form of chai-flavored martinis—and we applaud the trend. Slightly lighter and less sweet than a chocolate martini, but still decadent and creamy enough to feel like a proper winter indulgence, we love the spicy warmth it adds to a night. The recipe changes—at Taste Restaurant, it involves vanilla vodka and chai concentrate, while others use a chai-flavored liqueur.
It can be easy to miss a new addition to the cluster of Korean restaurants in the lower Remington neighborhood; they tend to have fairly blank facades, and most of their signage is in a language I don't speak. So it took me a little while to discover Nak Won (spelled "Noc Won" on the awning, but "Nak Won" on menus and business cards), which opened late last year next to the more venerable Joung Kak. I'm glad I finally went, though, because this is one of my favorite Korean restaurants in some time.
Victor’s goes casual in the county.
For years, Victor's Cafe in Harbor East was a favorite place to dine al fresco while looking out on the Inner Harbor. But recent development in the area forced the waterside restaurant to close. Now, owner Victor DiVivo has re-opened in a new location in the Timonium Crossing Shopping Center (2080 York Road, Timonium, 410-308-0620), next to the Baja Fresh. Other than the name and DiVivo himself, however, this new venture has little in common with the old one.
When exploring the business side of the wine world, it can be easy to develop prejudices that ultimately lead to a jaded view of the whole affair. But it's a new year, and I resolve not to let myself think that way. In that spirit, I went in search of wine types that I have been known to, well, think little of. Write off. Insult, even.
Tijuana’s a pleasant surprise.
La Tijuana Cantina (1003 N. Charles Street, 410-752-3333) is a funny little place. Located above the popular Mt. Vernon gay bar Grand Central, it's a separate entity from the bar downstairs (though they are owned by the same person). Furthermore, La Tijuana's two rooms each have their own very separate identities. One really is a cantina, a brightly lit, festively decorated room with Latin music playing. A mural of Mexican travel posters takes up one wall. The other room is dim and modern, with pop and club music on the sound system—more cosmo than margarita.
One of my favorite food trends is a renewed interest in locally produced ingredients. It's a movement with so many benefits: environmental (less gas used to transport things), economic (supporting local farmers), and aesthetic. Local ingredients tend to taste better, because not only are they fresher, but they're bred more for flavor than for being able to withstand long-distance shipping.
The end is nigh, isn't it? Just a few more weeks, and we'll be putting 2006 to bed. In the meantime, there are roughly 11 million parties to attend, with an attendant gauntlet of horrifying "festive" beverages to run. The great thing about showing up at a party with a vinous contribution is that it is firstly a very nice gesture, and secondly a guarantee that there will be something attractive for you to drink. This month, we'll have a look at a trio of party-goers that are bursting with pleasure, but won't burst your holiday budget.