Yes, a diamond is forever but don’t waste them on me. I’m all for gifts on your anniversary but I’d rather have delicious food or a memorable experience. You can get both at Charleston.
As far as restaurants in Baltimore go, if there is an award to be won, Charleston has won it. Since it opened in 1997 in the Harbor East neighborhood, restaurateurs Tony Foreman and Chef Cindy Wolf have maintained a high level of service and quality with their extensive prix fixe tasting menu and 800+ wine list. Along with winning numerous restaurant awards, Chef Cindy Wolf has been a James Beard Foundation finalist 5 times.
With all the accolades that Charleston has achieved, there is no better place to go for a VIP experience on your birthday or anniversary, any special occasion really. From the moment you walk in, every person at Charleston makes you feel pampered and special. It’s the little things like giving you a pillow for lumbar support when you sit on the booth side of the table. I hate sitting far back from the table, why don’t more places do this?! Since my husband had done the planning and mentioned that it was our anniversary, they gave us a special menu that said “Happy Anniversary” on it. Little things.
After much discussion we decided to each do 4 courses with wine pairings. We did 3 last year, but we were unprepared. This year we were ready. Before the meal began our server brought us out a little taste of chilled pureed watermelon. It was refreshing and just a tiny preview of what was to come.
For my first course, I ordered the Rich Lobster Soup with Curry. Their menu describes is as an “Intense Lobster Stock Reduction Finished with Cream, Butter-Poached Lobster, and Curry Oil”. It was paired with Amontillado Muy Viejo, Byass“Del Duque” 30 Year. On a day where the temperatures reach almost 90 degrees, you don’t normally order soup but I love lobster and I love curry. These aren’t two ingredients that you normally find paired together but it works. The soup was rich, creamy, and full of flavor.
For his first course, my husband ordered the Cornmeal-friend oysters. The oysters are served with a Lemon-Cayenne Mayonnaise and Upland Cress. They were paired with Champagne, J-M Sélèque “Cuvée Or Blanc” Extra Brut NV. Anything fried is tasty and sadly this is the only way my husband enjoys eating oysters. The frying process, however, did not take away from the delicateness of the oyster and the mayonnaise added the perfect sweet and spicy accent.
For my second course, I ordered the Prime Beef Steak Tartare. It was flavored with Capers, Shallots, Tabasco, Chives, and with French Bread Toast. It was paired with Beaujolais-Villages, Domaine Robert Denogent “Cuvée Jules Chauvet” (France) 2012. I love all things tartare and I know the thought of eating something that is basically raw sounds scary but it’s a chance you just have to take because the reward is deliciousness. The salty little explosion of the capers with every bite was my favorite. I could have made this my entire meal.
For his second course, my husband ordered the Black Sea Bass Ceviche. It was made with Cilantro, Jalapeño, Shallot, and Citrus and paired with Riesling Trocken, Weingut Sinß “S – Windesheimer” (Nahe) 2013. Again, something that seems raw, but really isn’t. Take that jump and get on the ceviche band wagon people. The mixture on top was our favorite part. He was jealous of my tartare though.
For my third course, I ordered the Pan-roasted Spanish Turbot. It came with a Medallion of Lobster, Saffron & Lobster Broth, Green Onion, Jalapeño & Cilantro Aji. The wine pairing was Bandol Blanc, La Bastide Blanche (France) 2013. I really liked this wine, and I’m not a big white wine gal. The turbot, oh the turbot though. Words cannot describe, but I will give it a try. I ordered it because of the accompanying ingredients since I’d never had turbot before. It truly was the perfect combination of flavors and like a little Mexican fiesta in my mouth with every bite. The jalapeno and cilantro aji was spicy and cool. Hands down, the best thing I ate all night.
For his third course, my husband ordered the Maryland Lump Crabcake. It was accented with an Avocado Purée and Grilled Tomato Vinaigrette. The crabcake was paired with Gioia del Colle Rosato, Polvanera (Puglia) 2014. Every person who lives in Baltimore is either on the quest for the best crabcake or has their own opinion of where to get it. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen mention of Charleston being one of the places to get the best crabcake but it deserves to be on a list somewhere. All the dishes are half servings so it’s not a big fluffy crabcake, but it was delicious with mostly crab meat and little filler. The smaller portions definitely leave you wanting more of each dish but you need room for the next course. Oh and the avocado puree was on point. We both wanted more of that.
For my fourth course, I ordered the Grilled Veal Sweetbreads. It was served with Crispy Polenta, Grilled Poblano Peppers, and a Veal Reduction Sauce. The wine pairing was Rioja Gran Reserva, Faustino I (Spain) 2001. Sweetbreads are not for the faint of heart especially once you ask what they are, the thymus or the pancreas of the animal. Don’t let that scare you, and not to sound cliché but it does taste like chicken, just a different texture on the inside, still crispy on the outside. The wine was a good match and really brought out the flavor of the sauce. I had sweetbreads for the first time when we ate at Charleston last year. I had danced around ordering it after seeing it prepared on some Food Network show and wanted to be brave. I’m glad I was because it’s another feather in my cap of food adventures. It’ll be hard for me to not order it every time we eat at the Charleston.
For his fourth course, my husband ordered the Pan-roasted Hudson Valley Magret of Duck with a Fresh Black Summer Truffle & Potato Gratin, Wilted Arugula, Crushed Walnuts, and Madeira Sauce. It was paired with Château Fourcas Dupré (Listrac Medoc) 2009. My husband is always on the quest for the best duck. He is basically a duck fiend and he will order it everywhere. After having the duck at Charleston he thinks he is ready to try to make it on his own. He even told the server who then gave him advice on how to cook it and where to find good quality duck. Now that is service. His duck was cooked to a perfect medium rare and the potato gratin was impressive with its thin layers of cheesy goodness.
This is the point where I failed you, my friends. We decided to get some selections from the cheese cart before we ordered dessert. I let my husband pick so I can’t tell you what we got and I didn’t even take a picture of it. I can tell you that our server was very knowledgeable when it came to the cheese, telling us what each one was and tasted like and helping us select a wine to go with. We selected two cheeses, one sharp and dry the other on the sweeter softer side. You will just have to go try their cheese for yourself.
At Charleston, dessert is always included in addition to the courses you order. Dessert for everyone! We passed on getting wine pairings with our dessert. Sometimes you just have to accept that you have had enough but they do have a great selection of sweet wine, port, sherry, and Madeira to go with their desserts.
For my dessert, I ordered the Crème Brûlée Trio. The flavors were strawberry mint, gianduja, and earl grey. They give you a perfect small portion of each. The tops of them are all brûléed to a hard layer. I’m torn because I can’t decide if I liked the strawberry mint or the earl grey better. They were both delicious and so much flavor packed into such a tiny little dish. The Earl Grey didn’t have too strong of a tea flavor, it was just right. The strawberry mint was heavy on the strawberry, light on the mint, good in my book. I didn’t know what gianduja was so I had no expectations of it. It tasted chocolatey, but not overpoweringly so. I now know that gianduja is a sweet chocolate spread containing about 1/3 hazelnut paste. Now we both know.
For his dessert, my husband ordered the Dark Chocolate Mousse which was pistachio sponge cake with white chocolate cremeux and candied cocoa nibs. I liked my dessert better again. He really enjoyed the pistachios and cocoa nibs sprinkled on top. It left me wanting more chocolate.
And more chocolate I did receive. Our meal was ended with a tray of macarons, chocolate truffles, and caramels. You don’t ask, you just receive, and enjoy.
So you can see why I love my husband. He knows me and he takes me to Charleston for our anniversary. If you love your person, you should take them there too. I can’t promise it but I’m pretty sure no one will ever have bad food or a bad time at Charleston, ever. That is all.