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Mare Nostrum—in Latin “Our Sea”—is a modest restaurant in Fells Point with large ambitions. Co-owner Murat Mercan came to the U.S. from Istanbul to study finance at McNeese State in Louisiana, but missed his native Turkish food. After receiving his MBA, he landed an accounting job at Maryland Stone Source in Landover and brought home-cooked food to work each day. His boss, Merter Akbay, who is also Turkish, was impressed with Mercan’s culinary skills and suggested they open a restaurant together. Mercan is also co-owner of Toss Pizza on York Road, but that’s a whole other story.
Sourcing. What makes Turkish food special, says Mercan, are the ingredients— particularly the seasonings. It’s hard to find red Maras pepper flakes, for example, or Isot pepper, made by drying red peppers in the sun each day and rolling them up in cloth to “sweat” when the sun goes down. The process takes about three weeks. Turkish pistachios are smaller, greener and tastier than those found in California; Mercan uses only Italian eggplant for the Saksuka (a meze made with roasted eggplant, tomatoes and peppers), and has the bronzini flown from the Aegean Sea. He travels to New Jersey for manti—miniature meat-filled ravioli, served with yogurt sauce. “We tried making it here, but couldn’t get the original taste,” he says. He met a couple at a market in New Jersey. “They are in their 60s or 70s and make manti at home. I bought 10 pounds to try.” Now he drives up there every couple weeks to buy the stuff, frozen, 50 pounds at a time. Another tricky ingredient was the lamb tail fat, an essential ingredient in adana (lamb) kebabs. Lambs in the U.S. don’t have plump tails like the Karakul breed found in Turkey. “I was searching for over a year, but I found it,” says Mercan, who won’t say where.
Kitchen. The main cooking surface in the kitchen is a bed of hot coals, where sis—or skewers—of varying widths rest on crossbars to cradle chicken and lamb above the heat. There’s an art to chopping the meat with a saber-like blade to achieve the right consistency, to molding it on the sis so it doesn’t fall into the fire, to keeping it from charring when the dripping fat makes the flames leap. Kunefe, a dessert made with shredded wheat, pistachio and mild sweet cheese, is cooked in a small aluminum pan above the coals. Chef Ömer Ademoglu hails from Urfa in southeast Turkey, where he learned to cook from his father.
Decor. Co-owner Akbay, owner of Maryland Stone Source, is responsible for the white Carrera marble tables, porcelain tile floors and bathrooms, clad in the same marble as the tabletops, equipped with elegant blue glass sinks. A Turkish friend provided the oil paintings, one of Bodrum Castle, built in the 15th century on the Turkish coast by the Knights of St. John, the other of the exterior of the Fells Point restaurant—which used to be a Quiznos, by the way.
Meze. Cold meze—a vast selection of small plates including kofte, hummus, pickled vegetables, chopped salads, stuffed mussels and strained yogurt—are wheeled around on a cart. In Turkish taverns, Mercan tells me, waiters carry around trays of meze for customers to select. Is there a name for this—like dim sum? “There’s no name for it; it’s just the way it is,” he says.
716 S. Broadway
Update: The print version and an earlier version of this story mistakenly identified Chef Omer’s home country. It has been corrected online.
David Hynes grew up in Brooklyn, learning to cook from his Italian mother. His first restaurant job was washing dishes at the age of 16, and he eventually ran kitchens for BR Guest, a chain of high-end New York restaurants that included Blue Water Grill, Primehouse and Strip House. He and his wife, Alexandra, who works for the New York-based restaurant group Momofuku, recently moved to her hometown of Columbia, Md., and Hynes took on the job of executive chef at Waterfront Kitchen.
How is it moving from a corporate kitchen to a small place? The company I worked for had more than 12 restaurants in New York City and none grossed less than $5 million a year. So yes, it’s an adjustment. I don’t have the same buying power. But it’s great because I get to be more interactive with guests and the food. I hope to bring a neighborhood feel to Waterfront Kitchen. I grew up in Brooklyn. Your neighborhood defined you. I’d love the people around here who work for a living to identify with what we are doing here.
Some folks think Baltimore is kind of Brooklyn South—people butchering pigs on the roof and growing honey in the alleys…Baltimore seems to be making the turn Brooklyn was making 10 years ago. The food scene started growing. All of a sudden Barnes & Noble and Starbucks wanted to be in Brooklyn. I didn’t know anyone who butchered pigs on a rooftop. My friends and I would roast whole pigs when we had barbecues. That’s the same kind of feel I get in Baltimore, particularly down here in Fells Point.
WK was founded with a strong ethos. It’s not just farm-to-table, but kids’ greenhouse next door to table. I’m looking forward to spring when we’ll have herbs, tomatoes, heirloom carrots, maybe eggplants. We’re about to restart kids’ cooking classes. I’m having conversations with Living Classrooms about potential stages and trails so kids can learn about back-of-the-house. It’s a day in the life type of thing in the kitchen.
When did you become interested in cooking? I cooked by my mother’s side when I was a kid. I grew up Italian/Irish, my mother is the Italian half. To me that means peasant food, keeping it simple, not drowning everything in ingredients.
What is your go-to recipe from your mom? We call them rice balls; everyone else would call them arancini. My family is the only one I know of that makes them this way.
What makes them different? They have pork products, soppressata, ham, prosciutto. If I tell you much more I’ll be divulging a family secret.
I picture nice fat running through it. Do you use a little red pepper? Are you going to put this in the magazine? My mom would kill me.
Chef Robert Wiedmaier grew up in Germany and speaks the language fluently. “But I don’t have a drop of German blood,” he says. “Go figure.” Instead, the owner of the new Mussel Bar and Grille in Harbor East looks to his father’s background for inspiration. “My father was born and raised in Antwerp,” says Wiedmaier, who says Baltimore reminds him of that place. “It’s a port city—you’ve got boats all around. Baltimore’s got some soul.” That’s one reason Wiedmaier, who owns two restaurants in D.C. (Marcel’s and Brasserie Beck) as well as Mussel Bars in Arlington, Bethesda and Atlantic City, decided to open his fourth outpost here.
Mussel Bar is, as you might guess, devoted to the mollusk, mostly prepared Belgian-style in broth with fries. But there’s also classic bistro food, like steak frites, charcuterie and a burger made with meat from a local farm. “You can trace your burger back to the exact cow,” he says. There’s a selection of Belgian and Maryland craft beer on 43 taps. The restaurant took over the space formerly occupied by the short-lived Townhouse, and Wiedmaier says he didn’t have to do a lot to move in. “It already had the feel of a mussel bar,” he says. 1350 Lancaster St., 410-946-6726, musselbar.com —Martha thomas
Teddy Folkman opened Granville Moore’s on Washington, D.C.’s H Street in 2007 before the neighborhood had settled into gentrification. “The place has a worn-down rowhouse look,” says Folkman. “It looks like it’s going to be condemned.” Though he hopes that his new restaurant, Baroak, shares some of the atmosphere that defines his D.C. place, he admits, “There can never be another Granville Moore’s.” Located in the posh Loews Annapolis Hotel, the new space features rustic decor. “We want to bring a neighborhoody feel to Annapolis, maintaining a down-home vibe,” Folkman says. The menu is easygoing, too—the most expensive item is the $23 catch of the day.
Taco appetizers are filled with braised brisket, coriander and radishes, and the Belgian onion soup is one part beer to two parts beef stock. There’s also a Sunday brunch, featuring a griddled chicken and ham breakfast sandwich and lobster hash with Old Bay hollandaise. But Folkman is perhaps most proud of the moules frites—it was, after all, his mussels that beat out Bobby Flay in a 2008 Food Network “Throwdown.” Belgian food is the theme here, dominating the menu as well as the beer. 126 West St., Annapolis, 410-295-3225, baroakannapolis.com —M.T.
Several years ago, Johns Hopkins’ Evergreen Museum invited John Shields to plant a garden. “The place was a mess,” says Shields, who was nevertheless grateful for a space substantially larger than the plot outside his kitchen door at the nearby Gertrude’s Restaurant. Since then, the garden has been put to good use, producing kale, radishes, heirloom tomatoes and herbs. While the output is not prolific enough for permanent menu items, says Shields, “we’ll do a special with some wonderful tomato, or fish peppers.”
Each year, he and Jon Carroll, Gertrude’s bar manager and an avid gardener, put on a five-part class called Edible Evergreen from March to October to educate would-be growers. Sessions include planting, tending and eventually harvesting—with a field trip to the 32nd Street Farmers Market and a “graduation” lunch at Gertrude’s featuring all the class has grown. “My dream would be to run the Chesapeake School of Cookery and Home Tending, where you can learn all the lost arts,” says Shields, who is hard at work on his new book, “The New Chesapeake Kitchen,” Shields describes growing food as “a radical act.” He says: “I tell people, even if they get one pot and grow parsley or basil, they’re making a difference.” 410-516-0341, museums.jhu.edu —M.T.
When Doug Atwell stepped up—No. 7 in a lineup of 14 esteemed bartenders competing in the inaugural Baltimore Cocktail Week face-off—he didn’t put on a show (read: no fire, no ice shaving, no song or dance). He just smiled at the judges and confidently got to work mixing and serving—ladies first, by the way—our fave drink of the evening: the Viking Daisy, a Preakness-inspired concoction named after the surrogate species used to create the floral blanket draped over the winning horse each year. (Fun fact: Black-Eyed Susans don’t bloom until June, so they fake it by daubing the daisies with black lacquer.) Atwell, a former video game developer turned craft cocktail pro, has added the refreshing pink concoction to his spring menu at Rye Fells Point, named one of “America’s Best Bars” by Esquire last year. Also look for him at Cocktails at the Conservatory on May 14, where he’ll serve up botanical-infused beverages in support of the Rawlings Conservatory in Druid Hill. —Jessica Bizik
Another tiny restaurant—26 seats in all—opens in Hampden, and this one is a Fabergé egg. Clearly a driven man, Arômes chef/owner Steve Monnier puts together complex small plates with whatever the market offers on a given day, supplemented by exotic flourishes from a collection of tins above the stove: dried chamomile, bottarga he made himself from dried Maine sea urchins, curry powder, matcha tea.
Food. If you’re a fan of tasting menus, this is your place. On an early visit, options included cauliflower risotto with lemon balm jus and a crunchy scallop chicharrones, tender lamb with curry butter and sweet carrot ravioli, a crispy potato nest with a scoop of dulce ice cream sprinkled with bottarga and lemon ash—a midflight mix of savory, salty and sweet that could have been dessert. Dessert reversed the stunt with white chocolate ice cream surrounded by sweet parsnips and tonka beans—topped with a sheet of caramelized milk skin, sweet and crumbly. Fussy but not overdone. “This is minimal,” says Monnier of his six-plate format. “If I were only cooking for 10 people, I’d do more.”
Chef. Monnier, 38, grew up in France’s Champagne country of Reims and started cooking at 16. Stints in Cannes and Paris included working under highly regarded chefs like Philippe Braun and Michel del Burgo at Michelin-starred restaurants. He moved to Los Angeles in 2002 and cooked at French restaurants there (including L’Orangerie) before becoming a personal chef to the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer, Goldie Hawn and Charlie Sheen (“a great guy,” Monnier assures). His training with “modern” chefs in Paris taught him to move the vegetable to the center of the plate. “A lot of scientists are saying that by 2050, we won’t have meat and fish,” he points out. “Why not treat vegetables the same way you would lobster or foie gras?”
Location. Monnier and his wife, Florence, moved east to be closer to her family in Pennsylvania when their son (almost 2) was born. They looked at D.C., he says, but real estate was too expensive for a self-financed undertaking. He’s impressed with the Hampden camaraderie. After he had trouble with a contractor, he says, “Everyone stepped up. It was amazing.” Besides, he enthuses, “Baltimore has everything—great farming, the soil is so rich. You got the ocean, the forests.” He’s enlisted a forager to bring him mushrooms, fiddleheads and indigenous wildflowers and herbs.
Sourcing. The meat comes from Liberty Delight Farms, the dairy from Trickling Springs Creamery. Even the elegant space, like the menu, is locally sourced. Tables hewn by Josh Crown from reclaimed wood and a parquet floor pieced together from Brazilian cherry found from a supplier in Timonium. Hampden designer Jesse Harris’ minimalist lighting design has wires cascading like Maypole ribbons from the center of the ceiling to illuminate each table with a single Edison bulb.
Drinks. It’s a BYOB place with a $5 corkage fee per bottle. A selection of nonalcoholic drinks, created by front-of-the house manager, Gilles Mascarell, includes aromatic concoctions like lavender and Meyer lemon; ginger, turmeric and grapefruit; and hibiscus, mint and lime.
Final Verdict. An early surge in reservations and one look at the gorgeous plates on the restaurant’s website indicate that a seat at Arômes will be coveted. Make a reservation. Soon.
3520 Chestnut Ave., 410-235-0035
Artist/chef Irena Stein is set to open Alma, her Latin American tapas restaurant serving comfy street food and artisanal drinks at the Can Company, in April. Stein, 61, the striking visionary behind all-natural Café Azafrán at the Space Telescope Science Institute—one of Baltimore’s best kept secrets—and Alkimia, a second locally sourced lunch spot on the Hopkins Homewood campus, was born in Venezuela. The daughter of a Polish father and Venezuelan mother, Stein grew up in Caracas and Brussels, both of which influence her diverse recipes.
You morphed from social worker to jewelry designer to chef—how did that evolution occur? I found myself in a very fragile situation economically after Sept. 11, and everyone encouraged me to open a place where people could enjoy my food. Eventually, friends started spreading the word that I was a caterer (I was not; I just adored cooking), and a number of clients started asking me to cater their parties. I said yes.
What sparked your passion for organic, locally grown food? I grew up in countries where buying local is normal because people cook seasonally and go to markets to buy fresh food. My mother cooked like that, so I never knew anything else. Never packaged, never canned. But it was not just our family. Most people followed a lifestyle that included pretty much a Mediterranean type diet—very balanced.
How did you choose the name Alma? Alma is a very beautiful name that represents the soul and the heart. This is a place where I can share everything I believe creates comfort and delight for the community. The menu will highlight Venezuelan and Latin American cuisine. It will include the famous and beloved arepas (crispy corn patties), empanadas, ceviches, stews and fish and meat dishes of the vast surrounding region. We have chosen to cook those popular foods with a contemporary approach.
Tell me about your duo chef team at Alma. I have the enormous good fortune to have two Venezuelan chefs with exceptional, award-winning careers: Enrique Limardo and Federico Tischler. Both have trained in the culinary schools in Spain, have worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants and have had rich careers in our home country as well. Together we will introduce a whole repertoire of flavors entirely new to Baltimore.
At Azafrán and Alkimia, you serve lots of scholars. Who do you envision as your clientele at Alma? Canton is a very diverse population in age and professions. We hope to seduce everyone with our full-flavor small plates and our bar.
Do you see a connection between your art and your cooking? Yes! Food is the biggest privilege in life, and the ingredients are beautiful. When you share it with your community, it is a pretty fantastic experience.
Katie Boyts likes to peek into the Dooby’s dining room from the kitchen to watch people eating her baked goods. “It’s such a treat for me,” says Boyts, who also follows her goodies on Instagram under #doobysbreadclub. Here, patrons post photos of their BLTs and brunches. Dooby’s Bread Club was born last year when Boyts realized that customers wanted to buy her fresh-baked loaves to take home. “I didn’t have time to do retail every day,” she says. So Dooby’s started what she calls a “bread CSA.” For $35 a month you get four weeks of bread (one loaf per week), plus “a little accouterment.” The weekly add-ons might include a jar of apple citrus spice jam, roasted garlic olive oil or herbed butter. “Sometimes we throw in some cookies,” Boyts says. The choices generally follow a cycle, with sourdough, focaccia and par-baked baguettes upended by “a wild card.” That may be burger rolls in the summer or challah and hot cross buns during the spring holidays. “It’s funny how bread brings this happiness to people. It keeps me excited about the craft,” she adds. 802 N. Charles St., 410-609-3162, doobyscoffee.com —Martha Thomas
A ‘Seabiscuity’ Brew
In 1979, a year after Affirmed became the last thoroughbred to win the Triple Crown, the Mt. Washington Tavern began an acclaimed run of its own down the hill from the home of the Preakness. Rather than simply having a few beers to celebrate their recent 35th birthday, the bar owners decided to create one: Old Hilltop Amber Lager. Named to honor Pimlico’s original clubhouse and the Tavern’s ties to the track, this smoothly sessionable and mildly malty—one might say Seabiscuity—lager was developed by Heavy Seas’ Hugh Sisson and Joe Gold in conjunction with the Tavern’s owners. They then went the extra furlong and commissioned a one-of-a-kind tap handle for the beer’s permanent spot in the establishment’s otherwise rotating stable of brews. Southeast Baltimore woodcarver Mark Supik—creator of tap handles nationwide—crafted a custom wood base for a cast metal horse created by yet another artisan associate of the Tavern. “We spent months visiting both the brewery and the woodshop to get everything just right,” says co-owner Rob Frisch. Local institution, local brewer, local artist—now that’s the trifecta. 5700 Newbury St., 410-367-6903, mtwashingtontavern.com —Mark Tough
When Shake Shack opened in the Inner Harbor in February, folks lined up in frigid winds and impend- ing snow for the chance to, well, sip a frosty milkshake. If nothing else, this proves that Baltimoreans are as food-obsessed as anyone in Brooklyn or Portland. For their second annual Emporiyum Food Market on April 18 and 19, Mindy Schapiro and Sue-Jean Chun have invited some 75 food vendors and artisans—half local, half from places like Boston, L.A., Charleston and Brooklyn—to offer their wares at the H & S Bakery Distribution Center.
Last year’s Emporiyum, at half the size, was a sellout. Look for gourmet cotton candy from Sky Candy of Orlando, kale-scented candles from Produce Candles in Charleston and Pernicious Pickles from Costa Mesa, Calif. Many of Baltimore’s small-batch stars also will make an appearance, including Haute Mess rubs and seasonings, Hex Ferments, Pure Chocolate by Jinji , along with small bites from restaurants like Fleet Street Kitchen, the Corner Pantry and yes, Shake Shack. Tickets, $15-$40. 600 S. Eden St. (corner of S. Central and Fleet) theemporiyum.com —Martha Thomas
Use Your Noodle
Brian and Larry Leonardi have found their sweet spot in Firenze, their new Reisterstown restaurant designed by Brian Thim of Rita St. Clair Associates. The menu ranges from fresh pasta and panini to meatball sliders, veal piccata and a 100-bottle wine list. Back in the day, the Leonardi brothers (along with sister Suzy Maria) ran two grab ‘n’ go pasta shops for Casa di Pasta, a small wholesale noodle factory in Little Italy with a storefront on Albemarle.
Firenze, too, is a family affair. Brian handles operations while Larry helms the kitchen. On a recent visit, Larry’s wife, Kelly, stood over the pasta extruder coaxing out fresh ribbons of fettuccine and twisted commas of gemelli while their 21-year-old son, Zachary (about to graduate from a local culinary program), oversaw the cooks. Even the elder generation is involved. “When we first opened, my 75-year-old father was in here washing dishes,” says Larry. 2 Hanover Road, Reisterstown, 410-394-5577 eatfirenze.com –Martha Thomas
Pie in the Sky
Masterminds behind the mega-popular Iggies, Lisa Heckman and Peter Wood have relocated their pizza ovens from Mount Vernon to Towson, taking over the more intimate former Havana Road location. “We wanted a smaller space as we wanted to take our food and service quality to an even higher level,” says Heckman, who with Wood sold the roomier Iggies café to retired pharmacist Jim Pak in July. (Pak keeps Iggies alive, aiming to change not a pepperoni, incidentally.) The new Local Pie seats 30—or 42, Heckman says, in a pinch—and décor is bright, airy and unfussy. Schmancy, however, are the seasonal, farm-to-table ingredients that make for a menu that’s always changing. Right now, try the bison meatball pizza (Monkton bison, by the way) drizzled in a honey sauce, the duck egg pizza and March mushroom special. But, wait! What about the uber-light crust that‘s Iggie’s luscious trademark? “We’re still producing a thin crust pizza, but after that the similarities end,” Heckman says. 8 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Towson, 410-583-0008, localpietowson.com
Prem Raja Mahat is like the Nepali Bob Dylan—with concert dates set through 2015 and a tendency to get recognized in airports for his face as well as his extensive catalog of Nepali folk music. Mahat, who relocated here in 1996, and serves as Consul General to the U.S., thinks of his down-home new restaurant, Nepal House, as another ambassador of his native tradition. Now occupying the former Mugal Garden space—which Mahat managed for nine years (and meanwhile co-owned Himalayan House in Locust Point)—the spot also stars the owner’s wife, Kadita, who hosts with quiet warmth, and their four children. In addition to Indian standbys, chef Kansi Gautam serves up Nepali essentials: Dal lentil rice, lamb, mustard greens, black lentils and yogurt. Thakali Thali, Mahat’s top recommendation, can be chicken or goat kabob. “This food is good for your health,” Mahat adds. “And we eat what we cook—we eat together.” 920 N. Charles St., 410-547-0001, nepalhouseinc.com
Despite sweet success, Jason Ambrose was feeling a little tired…. Well, maybe tired isn’t the right word, says the 43-year-old, who opened the innovative Salt Tavern on an unlikely block of East Pratt Street nearly a decade ago. “I wanted to do something else. Nine years of any job, you get restless.” Besides, he says, “Salt had evolved into a place my friends couldn’t afford to go to.”
So Ambrose, with the help of Hencken & Gaines construction, converted the 700-square-foot ground floor of a corner rowhouse (at one time a bar called Down the Hatch) in Locust Point into 1157 Bar and Kitchen.
Like Salt, the place is a revelation. So much more than the tiny room (five two-tops, a table for eight and a dozen bar stools) would suggest. Ambrose, who still owns Salt, can be seen in his new miniature kitchen—with barely more than a six-burner Vulcan and Hoshizaki fridge only inches larger than a home Frigidaire—busily arranging his elevated take on bar food on smooth walnut boards (made by a friend), while two bartender-servers take care of things up front.
Location. The Haubert Street spot is pretty much across the street from Under Armour with its 3,000-plus mostly young, unfettered employees. Ambrose has been seeing plenty of young professionals amble in after work (happy hour starts at 4). Well-heeled empty nesters from Silo Point walk over on weekends. More low-key than Silo.5 and the Wine Market, more nuanced than nearby Hull Street Blues Cafe, 1157 won’t have any trouble finding a local audience. Too bad for the rest of us. Hoofing it out there to take our chances on one of the 30 seats might require a backup plan.
Food. “When my wife and I lived in the city,” says Ambrose, who has since moved to the Essex waterside, “we’d find ourselves walking into restaurants and sitting at the bar.” He says he started “getting a little obsessed with eating and drinking at bars.” The menu is heavy on small plates and sandwiches, with only two or three entrées (seared sea scallops and wild boar ragout in fresh pappardelle on an early visit). Chicken wings twice-fried in rice flour and smothered in Korean chili paste and sweet soy glaze, beef tartare dressed up with chimichurri and served with a pickled quail egg, crispy octopus with a swirl of tart orange dipping sauce—these treats are not your average bar food. Sandwiches like duck confit and gruyère on a crispy baguette with sour cherry relish and braised short-rib melt will no doubt make way for lighter combos with the arrival of spring. “March,” says the chef, “means ramps and morels and fun stuff like that.”
Drinks. A few sturdy shelves behind the bar proffer a preponderance of brown liquors, many small-batch domestics. “It’s the way I like to drink,” admits Ambrose. The eight taps crank out a rotating selection of brews and ciders—hailing from Belgium to Monkton to Hershey, Pa. The Bloody Mule is tongue-tingling ginger beer and vodka pierced with blood orange syrup, and the pre-mixed Negroni has a mellow, smoky flavor. There’s also a short but thoughtful selection of wines by the glass.
Desserts. Tangy Meyer lemon sorbet—made in-house at Salt—is fresh and palate-cleansing, while a banana-chocolate tart, drizzled with caramel, is sweet and creamy. The adult milkshake—
mezcal with spicy Mexican chocolate—is worth the calories (as long as someone else is driving).
Final Verdict. Jason Ambrose, who wowed us with Salt, has recently decided to simplify. Somebody please tell him 1157 is anything but simple. On the other hand, don’t.
1157 Bar and kitchen
1157 Haubert St.
Azumi has taken over the space adjacent to the Four Seasons Hotel formerly occupied by Pabu. While its predecessor was a casual izakaya—the Japanese equivalent of a pub—the new concept, from the Atlas Restaurant Group (owners of nearby Ouzo Bay), is full service, multi-course and upscale. Emphasis on upscale. Chef Eiji Takase’s menu includes several cuts of wagyu beef along with sushi and signature appetizers. In addition to its sake program, the bar will reflect Japan’s recent obsession with fine whiskey.
Chef. Takase, who moved to Fells Point in October, was part of the creative team behind SushiSamba, the Japanese-Brazilian concept (with locations in Manhattan’s West Village, Miami and London) and opened Shibuya in Las Vegas. He was also behind Chicago’s Japonais and Momoya in New York. Look for such cold dishes as blue fin Toro tartare with caviar, wasabi foam and wakamono, and jalapeno yellowtail hamachi with garlic soy, achiote oil and yuzu. Wagyu beef from Snake River Farms in Idaho will be seared on hot stone, and of course there will be sushi. “Rice is very important,” says Takase. “It’s connected to Shinto [the ancient Japanese religion], a symbol of life.”
Drinks. Tiffany Soto, who holds the rarified title of Sake Kikizake-shi (or Master Sake Teacher), consulted with the restaurant—as well as providing training to staff. The bar also will feature high-end Japanese whiskey (don’t forget, Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask recently ruffled Scotch feathers in the World Whiskey Bible). Taps will proffer both Japanese and local suds. “That’s the great thing about our team,” says Alex Smith, Atlas co-owner (with George Aligeorgas). “Our shtick is we’re local guys, so we’ll have Resurrection and Duckpin along with Sapporo.”
Décor. Designer Patrick Sutton has created a streamlined look with a range of textures and surfaces, both natural and synthetic. Entry to Azumi is through a clear glass vestibule to keep out the sharp winter wind—and summer heat. What was formerly a wall behind the bar is now a sweep of windows facing the water and the public walkway that rims Harbor East (with plans to create an outdoor space with soft seating, planters and lanterns). Banquettes are upholstered in shimmery faux eelskin and lit by custom metal light fixtures shaped like bishop’s hats. The bar has been relocated to the rear, and features a steel backdrop with a Japanese proverb (loose translation: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”) laser cut and backlit through red acrylic.
Lounge. A small lounge area off to one side offers bottle service in the shadow of a DJ (who will spin easy listening until 11 p.m., when, owners hope, a nightlife vibe will kick in). The wall is clad in black acoustic foam cut in a geometric pattern, and barstools are the very best part; each a hollow cylinder packed with vertical dowels. Upon landing, your backside is in for a squishy treat. The dowels sit atop Tempur-pedic type foam to create a shape-conforming cushion. “I don’t know where Patrick finds these things,” Smith muses.
Final Verdict. Azumi, Japanese fine dining from a conscientious chef with an international reputation, is the first of its kind in the region. Bring your gold card.
Azumi 725 Aliceanna St.
Want Fries with That?
When James Clark was a college student in Ottowa, he and his friends would gorge on poutine—fries slathered in gravy and sprinkled with white cheese curds. “That’s what you’d do after a night out,” says Clark. The one-time hangover prophylactic has become mainstream in his home country. “You see guys in suits in Toronto having it for lunch,” he says. His eponymous Clark Burger, which opened in a small space adjacent to the Senator Theatre in December, serves the fries gussied up with options like pulled pork, bacon and Montreal smoked meat, in addition to burgers with all manner of toppings. Wash it all down with local brews on tap or a classic Canadian-inspired cocktail. One of Clark’s favorites is the Bloody Caesar, a lighter rendition of a bloody mary, made with Clamato. “I think the first person who tried it said, ‘Bloody Caesar!’ because it tasted so good,” he theorizes. He also predicts the return of the Boilermaker (for those who don’t watch crime dramas, that’s a beer and a shot of whiskey). 5906 York Road, 410-323-0000, clark-burger.com
Jim Glick, co-owner of the SoBo Market, an extension of nearby SoBo Café in Federal Hill, has a vision of the ideal customer. “It’s a neighborhood place. They’ll come in for a cocktail after work and then look around and see something for dinner.” That something may be on the simple menu of sandwiches on homemade bread, crudités and small plates—or in the grab-and-go case stocked with gourmet salads, roasted chicken, hummus and other spreads and staples like milk and eggs. Glick’s life and business partner Anna Leventis, bought the mothership café three years ago and has transformed it into a comfort food alternative to the raucous bar scene nearby—and a favorite of the neighborhood’s growing under-10 population. “We’ve had kids who ask to have their birthday parties here,” Leventis points out. Some of the café’s favorites, such as mac-n-cheese and spinach pie, are available at the market, as well as coffee drinks and pastries (including SoBo’s renowned biscuits) on weekend mornings. For those who want to linger, bar manager Paul Palombo (pictured right) is crafting such “post-prohibition” cocktails as the Bobby Burns (Scotch, sweet vermouth and Benedictine) and Corpse Reviver (gin, Cointreau and absinthe) from boutique spirits. 13 E. Randall St., 410-685-6605
Wake Up, Annapolis
Kyle Algaze, owner of Iron Rooster in Annapolis, has an operating principle that resonates with everyone: Breakfast for dinner. The menu moves seamlessly from eggs Benedict with smoked salmon to waffles with buttermilk fried chicken—a recipe of which Algaze is rightfully proud—to coffee-rubbed New York strip steak and “Cakes on Cakes” (crabcakes + cornmeal pancakes). The food at this homey spot, a stone’s throw from Market Slip (aka Ego Alley) is whimsical and comforting—and sure to incite food envy (you really want to know what the people at the next table are having). We salivated over a neighbor’s Oysters Roostafella with spinach and quail eggs, shrimp and grits, a risotto baked in its own cast-iron pan—and a dessert list that’s so over-the-top it sounds like a parody of modern food trends. Peanut butter glazed bacon candy bar or red velvet waffle ice cream sandwich rolled in dark shaved chocolate, anyone? 12 Market Space, Annapolis, 410-990-1600, ironroosterallday.com
The White Oak Tavern can’t yet afford to publicize on the strip mall marquis, so co-owner Clare Frey just tells people “it’s in the Enchanted Forest shopping center.” The Ellicott City restaurant that Frey owns with her brother Peter and bar manager Noel Johnson took over the space once owned by Jilly’s Sports Bar last January. Though the fairy tale playthings have been moved to a nearby farm, the shopping center once called home by the oversized shoe and three little pigs’ cottages remains well known to Howard County residents of a certain age. Thick and juicy burgers made with grass-fed beef from Wagon Wheel Ranch in Mount Airy served with caramelized onions on an Atwater’s brioche bun is emblematic of the restaurant itself. The busy spot with TVs and bottomless brunch cocktails that is, yes, located in a strip mall, has an old soul. The owners are committed to local sourcing and “scratch cooking” along with craft cocktails made with seasonal fruits. Walls are paneled with wood torn from old pallets and decorated with reproductions of vintage photos from the Miller Branch library’s archives. “We have some customers who recognize themselves,” Frey says. Those folks probably also played at the Enchanted Forest. The rest of us can revel in the authenticity of the place. 10030 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, 410-680-8974, thewhiteoaktavern.com
Dave Thomas and his wife, Tonya, along with business partners Brandon Taylor and Yuriy Chernov, opened Herb & Soul in Parkville in 2012. The cozy, bustling restaurant specializes in what Thomas calls Southern fusion, comfort foods with a healthy twist. Think alligator etouffée, fry bread tacos with braised rabbit and anything kale. Herb & Soul Express, which opened in Hamilton in December, offers carryout and delivery of foods Thomas has become known for (both at the Parkville restaurant and his stand at the Sunday Farmers Market and Bazaar).
What are your food roots? My grandmother was a Blackfoot Indian, one generation out of slavery, from North Carolina. She had 13 acres in Howard County with apple trees, fig trees, pear trees, cherry trees. She had a garden; she butchered her own animals; she made root beer. I watched her make everything from scratch from her own fields. When I got into cooking, I wanted to do that.
Sounds like you were on top of a trend. People do look at it as a trend; that’s an unfortunate thing. If you look back to the 1950s, before industrial farming became dominant in the U.S., even if you went to the grocery store to buy food, they could point you to the farm where it came from.
Does your food have a message? I believe the Creator made everything to eat perfectly. As chefs, our job is to enhance what nature provides. I’ve done all the gastronomic stuff; I’ve worked with foams and know all the ways of making food look like something it’s not. I like simple food; simple flavors. I want people to eat healthy. But people want what they want. Some customers come in strictly for our fried chicken.
So you want people to eat close to the earth. Not only is that healthy, but you’re supporting the environment. I serve blue catfish because it’s invasive in Maryland waters. The indigenous white or channel catfish grow to only 10 to 15 pounds. Blue catfish is indigenous to Asia and was introduced in Maryland several years ago. The record caught was 120 pounds. It has no natural predators, so it’s eating all the things we love about the Chesapeake: baby oysters, baby rockfish, baby crabs. The only way to get rid of it is to cook it and eat it.
Will the Express menu be different? We’ll have artisan pizza, along with our Southern fusion, po’boys, Navajo fry bread tacos. We sell them now at Baltimore Farmers Market.
Is Herb & Soul Express a prototype? We’re looking to do five to 10 locations. Our idea is to change the concept of carryout and delivery food. No buffalo wings or frozen chicken tenders. We won’t be selling steak-umms. I’ll be buying fresh top round from Roseda, and hand-slicing it. —Martha Thomas