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