I haven't written here recently, but it's because I have been eating and drinking so well! My recent discoveries:
1. Bin 604, Baltimore (pictured above)
I like these people, and the shop is a mix of earthy every day drinking wines to industry standards and even "big gesture" wines. It's a light hearted spot, right next to the Whole
2. The Wine Bin, Ellicott City
Gotta love a place where the owners are generally there. Nice selection, with some chocolates and snacky savories thrown in, too. On the weekends, they throw a sheet up on the back wall of the parking lot and screen movies. I am bummed that it was too hot the weekend they screened Jaws, one of my all time faves. Although they look like a fancy shop (and they have a humidor with some serious big money wines in it) you can happily stroll in and say, "I want 3 wines and I have $35; what can you do for me?" Bonus: they were totally game to watch my YouTube recommendations, including the classic "Grape Lady Falls". Extra points for The Wine Bin.
3. Pure Wine Cafe, Ellicott City
Holy moly. This is big-city wine pairing in a quaint package. I've linked to the menu, which delivered in so many mouthwatering ways. We had 3 generous tapas-style plates and an accompanying flight that went something like this:
Charcuterie of Serrano ham, Applewood duck breast and a farmhouse cheese/Malbec
Fig, proscuitto and bleu cheese flatbread (which was like a sexy pop-tart)/Bordeaux
It was one of those meals where you wish you could expand your stomach just to try more. I can't go back soon enough. Really, a fine, fine experience.
4. Sweet Cascades, Ellicott City
Home made peanut butter cups. Malts. Chocolate-covered jalapeños.
What? I need to go back and taste the chocolate crabs with Old Bay seasoning. And the giant smores. And everything else. Watch out for the jalapeños though. Tasty but suddenly inedible when you get the seeds, and the chocolate is too thick and falls off. If you're the owner and are reading this, cut them in half, remove almost all of the seeds and them dip them in a thinner layer. It's a great flavor combo, but they are NOT practical as they stand now, and this is from someone who enjoys really spicy food! Still, I like the people and they have a huge selection of fine handmade candy and chocolate.
5. Cacao Lane, Ellicott City
I am a regular barfly here. The owner is a sweet guy, and Una and Ed (the primary downstairs bartenders) are great conversation who totally play ball when I ask them to surprise me. Una made me a cucumber martini that was crisp and refreshing on a searing night, and Ed, seeing that I lamented their lack of ice cream for dessert, made a creamsicle-flavored concoction that was amazing. The scene here is eclectic, and you can find old couples on their 5pm dinner date and the youth of Ellicott City upstairs on open mic night. Their new chef just redesigned the menu. I'm bummed that they took the raw oysters off the menu, but there is good stuff being added all the time.
6. Petit Louis, Baltimore
The service is strained, but the food is authentic and mostly wonderful. Epic, lush, and varied wine list. The Cab Franc was perfect! My friend's duck confit was overcooked, but my smoked duck breast was sublime. When we mentioned the problem with the confit, they were totally unreceptive and borderline intolerant. Hmmm. Not cheap, but in any other city, it would have been twice as much! Best vichyssoise I have ever had. Still, I have to say that they seemed glad to see the back of us. I'll return, but next time I'll wear a disguise to see if they're pissy with everyone, or just Californians and New Yorkers.
7. Union Jack Pub, Bethesda
Great service, perfect pub food, LOTS of room, cold, cold beer. Sometimes that's all a girl needs.
8. The Rumor Mill, Ellicott City
Chef Matthew is coming from a good place, but it seems like the kinks still need working out. My first time here, there were undercooked shrimp in an otherwise average dining experience. The second time, everything was fantastic. The flavor profiles were so careful and creative. Then I took foodie pal Joe here my third time, thinking it would be great, but the pear tart was really amateurish and if it hadn't been frozen, there were certainly textural issues and not enough salt to balance the only mildly sweet pears. It felt rushed and like a component was missing: maybe a coulis? Fleur de Sel sauce? Butter? I don't know. Also, one of my peeves is that people throw tuna tartare and avocados together like they're just going to be fabulous no matter what. I know I'm spoiled by Californian sushi culture, but what passes for tuna tartare and guacamole here is flavorless. It's what I imagine Top Chef rejects make on their first quickfire challenge. I'm still going to eat here, because I sense that I'm on the leading edge of something. I can't wait to see what it is, and as a betting woman, I'm wagering it's going to be great.