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Restaurant Deconstructed: Le Garage
In the Bordeaux region of France, garagistes shook up the red wine world in the 1990s with their nontraditional blends. Named in part for that movement, Le Garage opened in Hampden in April with its own take on French and Belgian beer-with-food. Chris Spann, founder-owner of The Wine Market, stands in the background as “partner-consultant” while Brendan Kirlin, who trained as a beer buyer for Spann’s Locust Point bistro, mans the front of the house and stocks the bar. The kitchen is commandeered by Sarah Acconcia, whose credentials include helming 13.5% Wine Bar and the defunct Kettle Hill as well as working as sous chef at Maggie’s Farm.
Menu. While the menu is inspired by flavors French and Belgian, Acconcia dabbles in Southeast Asian flavors, possibly influenced by her previous gig with Andrew Weinzirl at Maggie’s Farm.
Specials include a Maryland rockfish, bouillabaisse with lobster, mallard duck breast and ribeye steak frites. Acconcia is most jazzed about the chef’s blind tasting menu, five courses of inspiration, du moment.
Frites & burgers. Le Garage’s Frites shop, in the entry vestibule on the Avenue is a first for Baltimore. Thick-cut fried potatoes, creamy inside, crispy out, come in cones with a choice of 18 dipping sauces—ranging from a sharp red chili gochujang aioli to Old Bay ketchup to sweet pea and ginger— though missing is classic Belgian mayo. Try them all. The restaurant menu boasts a delicious burger, a Roseda dry age topped with cheddar, arugula and fois gras.
Bar. Kirlin has stocked the taps with a mix of Belgian, French and local craft suds, designed to complement the beer-friendly food, and available for transport in Le Garage-branded growlers. There’s a cocktail list with classic drinks featuring local spirits, and familiar French elixirs—think Lillet and Chartreuse—in new concoctions. Wine drinkers can turn to what Spann calls “the smart, efficient little all-French wine list.”
Décor. The former Dogwood has been divided into discrete bar and dining sections by open shelves stocked with empty growlers, vintage cookbooks and assorted bric-a-brac. The basement space has a garage-y feel; SM+P partner Charles Patterson (who also designed the nearby Food Market and Mt. Washington Tavern) chose dark hues and industrial chic touches—like a window with arty tinted panes looking into the private dining room—to create an informal vibe. 911 W. 36th St., 410-243-6300. legaragebaltmore.com
Wine & Dine: Cygnus Wine Dinners
Nearly a decade ago, to celebrate Cygnus Wine Cellars’ 10th birthday, owner and winemaker Ray Brasfield invited a few chefs to put together tasting dinners. The gatherings, in the lower level of the circa-1930s slaughterhouse that Cygnus calls home, were so well received, says Brasfield, he decided to keep them going. Each Sunday in July, diners gather in the late afternoon to sip a sparkling Royele and nibble on snacks before moving into the rustic banquet room for a sit-down meal. Since 2005, guest chefs have included Jerry Pellegrino (now of Waterfront Kitchen), Michael Gettier (formerly of Antrim 1844) among others, who prepare multi-course feasts to pair with current Cygnus wines and special bottles from the library. “I’m into it,” says Antonio Baines, executive chef at Tapas Teatro, who has made the trek to Manchester nearly every year—and will return on July 27 for a yet-to-be-determined menu. Because the winery’s kitchen facilities are minimal, Baines sets up a grill to prepare most of the meal. “I just wait and see what’s available a few days before the event,” says the chef, whose favorite Cygnus wine is the Port of Manchester, a Port-style wine that is sweet without any fortification. “It’s kind of a play on words,” he says. “There’s no port in Manchester.” Cost, $80 per person. 410-374-6395, cygnuswinecellars.com
Social Network: Barcocina
The folks at Bond Street Social have expanded the fun by opening an equally social new restaurant at the harbor’s edge nearby. And while Barcocina (a Spanishy-sounding combo of bar and kitchen) “appeals to a similar demographic,” general manager Shane Gerken describes the new spot, which opened in early May in the former Shuckers space, as “a little more chill” than its older sibling. Renovations included opening up the side of the building and installing 14 glass-paneled, garage-style doors and raising the patio to meet the restaurant’s floor so in warm weather it all feels like one contiguous space. The menu, overseen by Bond Street executive chef Marc Dixon and executed by Chris Angel (former chef de cuisine at Aldo’s), is equally chill. Mexican-inspired small plates feature a selection of guacamole with such add-ons as fried egg and chorizo, sharable tacos, an ancho shrimp quesadilla and crabcakes with a chipotle bite. The drink menu is divided into sweet, spicy and smoky, using techniques like capturing smoked cinnamon on the inside of a glass and repurposing the liquid from the sous vide tequila bacon as an ingredient in brunch bloodies. 1629 Thames Street, 410-563-1500, barcocina.com
Sweet Retreat: Poupon Café
French-trained Joseph Poupon has been cranking out crusty bread, flakey choux and ornately embellished wedding cakes since he opened Patisserie Poupon in 1986. The tiny East Baltimore Street storefront is familiar to Francophiles, sweet-toothed cognoscenti and the soon-to-be-married but is otherwise unspectacular—at least from the décor perspective. Not so the recently opened Poupon Cafe in Mount Vernon’s Grand Historic Venue. The café’s menu is similar to that of the Georgetown sandwich shop the baker opened in 1997—sandwiches, salads, ham and cheese croissants, quiche—as well as coffee drinks and plenty of alluring treats, buttery and sweet. Oversized vintage posters advertising such everyday French products as breath mints and laundry products, bistro chairs with bamboo frames and high ceilings with bowl chandeliers give the place an aura of authenticity. But the truth really hits when you bite into a mille-feuille, oozing pastry cream, the thousand leaves crumbling between your lips. When Poupon came to Baltimore nearly 30 years ago, he’d already made sweets at some of New York’s fanciest patisseries—including Bonte and and Dumas—and delivered baked goods to the iconic restaurants La Delice Pastry Shop and Le Côte Basque. Now he’s found a new home on Charles Street. C’est si bon. 225 N. Charles St. 443-573-4620, patisseriepoupon.net