In an effort to minimize some potentially troublesome diet challenges, I had been avoiding business trips whenever I could. As anyone who travels for work can attest, it absolutely throws a kink in pretty much any kind of diet and/or exercise regimen. Between the time changes, the long days and the often sumptuous business dinners, it would have been murderous to my efforts to win the fat loss challenge. Unfortunately, lack of business trips aside, I still didn’t end up winning, but once the contest ended, I was excited to look up some good places to eat for my upcoming trip to Baltimore. In my research of restaurants, Cindy Wolf and her mini empire of restaurants seemed to come up quite often, so I decided to make reservations for ECost and I to have dinner at Charleston. It turns out that Cindy Wolf was a two-time finalist for James Beard Award for Best Chef – Mid Atlantic, so I was definitely going in with some high expectations.
After arriving early for our already early reservation at 5:30pm, we ordered some wine at the bar and were seated pretty quickly. We perused the menu and after overcoming some indecisiveness, we were able to choose the dishes for our 4 course prix-fixe. The waiter soon brought out the amuse bouche which consisted of a mini crab cake in a black bean sauce and a fava bean mousse on a brioche cracker. The fava bean mousse was interesting, but the crab cake was fantastic! It was small but packed with 100% lump crab meat, and the black bean sauce was a different but went surprisingly well with the crab.
My first course was the Ruby Red Shrimp with Real Grits which probably was the best course of the evening. The sauteed shrimps were tender, well-seasoned and perfectly complemented the creamy grits. The chopped Andouille sausage and Tasso ham added a nice bit of texture to the grits which were smooth and buttery.
The Big Eye Tuna Tartare was next up. The tuna was evenly chopped and mixed with avocado, cucumber, cilantro and lime. Although light and refreshing, the actual taste of the tuna was sorely lacking. Without any elaborate seasoning, the freshness of the tuna seemed to shine through, but since tuna tends to taste pretty bland, all I really tasted was distinct blandness.
I’ve never seen a foie gras on a menu that I didn’t order, so even though I suspected it might be too much, I went ahead and got it for my third course. A nice-sized piece of Hudson Valley foie gras was pan-seared and served with a thin slice of butter fried brioche toast with a quail egg in the middle. Although I hate to say something bad about foie gras, I think overall the dish was a heart attack waiting to happen. The foie gras was good and characteristically soft, almost creamy in texture, but the toast which I would normally expect to balance out the foie gras seemed to exponentially compound the richness of the dish. It was buttered, fried and had a quail egg in the center. The toast was so oily in of itself that it only made the entire dish overwhelming rich. It really was too much for my taste buds to handle, so it was kind of sad that I couldn’t even finish it.
My last course was the Magret Duck Breast which was pan-roasted and served on a cornmeal cake topped with a rhubarb and blackberry compote. I was pretty full by this point, but in spite of that, I think the flavors on this dish were diametrically opposed so much that it just overpowered my palate. It wasn’t a bad dish, but I have had better duck before.
We were very full at this point, but the waitress suggested we try the Lime Mousse which was the lightest yet still delicious choice on the dessert menu. The Lime Mousse, on the left, was made with a coconut shortbread, which you can’t see, and was served with a strawberry sorbet, on the right, and some basil syrup. This was quite a delightful tasting way to end the menu. The strawberry sorbet was refreshing and the lime mousse was light.
Generally speaking, I was pretty pleased with the meal. I liked some of the dishes, particularly the Shrimp and Grits, and other dishes like the Foie Gras and Duck Breast were good but not great. Each tasted a little heavy-handed for one reason or another. Only the Tuna Tartare was unimpressive. The restaurant is a nice space with a noticeably formal feel fit for a business dinner or a special occasion. I have to admit I wasn’t expecting the food to be that interesting in Baltimore, but I was pleasantly surprised with Charleston. I would highly recommend it for anyone visiting the Inner Harbor area and looking for some solid food.
1000 Lancaster St.
Baltimore, MD 21202
PAFO Ratings for Charleston:
Price 4 stars
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 3 stars
Overall rating 3½ stars