Jun 29 2011

Truly a Feast

Driving through Mt. Vernon, with Baltimore's Washington Monument straight ahead.

Feast @ 4 East is a hidden gem in the Baltimore neighborhood of Mt. Vernon. Home to the Walters Art Museum, The Peabody Institute, Baltimore CENTERSTAGE, and the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center, the Mount Vernon Cultural District is a destination neighborhood for visitors and native Baltimoreans alike.

Feast @ 4 East is the dining room of 4 East Madison Inn, a Mount Vernon townhouse that boasts a rich history. Now a boutique hotel, the building formerly housed The 4 East Madison Orthopedic Association, and its physicians are said to have treated celebrities such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Katherine Hepburn, Joe DiMaggio, John F. Kennedy, and Mickey Mantle.

Dining at Feast @ 4 East is a distinctive experience, and my husband and I had a memorable dinner there one night last spring. Walking through the door, I felt as though I was entering not a restaurant, but someone’s home. A Chesterfield sofa and old-fashioned chair with an embroidered seat welcomed us into the foyer, and my eyes traveled up the staircase to the guest rooms on the second floor. The hostess took our name and led us past the parlor and into the dining room. Filled with antique furniture and featuring a regal blue and gold color scheme, triple crown molding, and ornate architectural details, the townhouse is certainly grand. But the space also has a lived-in feel. While some visitors might find the crack in the marble fireplace and edge-worn rugs slightly shabby, I appreciated the authenticity of the surroundings and immediately felt at ease.

The restaurant is BYOW (with a  $5 corkage fee), so there’s no need to wait to place a drink order. After taking a sip of the pinot noir we brought along, I noticed some offbeat touches in the traditional room. Two bulldogs standing sentinel (as candle holders) on the mantle gave me pause, as did the tiny figurines of people and pigs scattered near their feet. Each table was set with a bright pink tulip in a bud vase—unexpected, but a nice contrast to the blue and gold.

The dining area had only 10 tables, mostly set for two, and included a few overflow tables in the front parlor. Despite the intimate arrangement, the space didn’t feel crowded. Jazz, originating from a bookshelf stereo in a corner, streamed in the background.

The menu had something for everyone, with entrees such as grilled bison, half rack of lamb, and even a nightly vegan creation. Entrée prices hovered around $20, and starters, salads, and desserts ranged from $8 to $12.

The food arrived quickly and was served on mismatched china; a chipped blue and white plate only added to the charm.  As we made our way through a gruyere and onion tart, olive tapenade bruschetta, and mixed greens salad with blue-veined cheese, fresh fruit, and roasted walnuts, I mentally revised my initial assessment: I was not just dining in someone’s home—our host had tremendous culinary skill.

The sweet potato gnocchi with sage butter and linguine in a truffle cream sauce that arrived next were both rich and comforting. Although they were listed on the menu under “Light Plates,” they were filling, and just the right portion size for pasta.

Everything so far had been delightful, and dessert was an offer I could not refuse. Belgian chocolate pot de crème and apple bread pudding, accompanied by strong French pressed coffee, were perfectly sweet endings.


Jun 19 2011

I Heart NOLA

I recently had the opportunity to visit New Orleans to attend a trade show for work, and I extended my stay to visit some friends who moved there last year. I didn’t know we could pack so much into one extra day—we spent some time in the French Quarter, rode the streetcar, took in a rooftop view of the city, and visited a local farmers’ market.

On Saturday morning, we biked through downtown and along the riverfront to Cafe Du Monde for breakfast. I hadn’t ridden in years, and the bike provided had seen better days (as my friend put it, the brakes were “more of a suggestion”), but nonetheless the trip went smoothly. And it was the perfect way to start the morning. We wove our way through the runners and tourists along the riverfront and reached the cafe just in time to get a table perfect for people-watching, with a view of artists setting up their wares across Decatur Street. Let me just say that the beignets are golden perfection topped off with mountains of powdered sugar, and it’s probably a good thing I don’t live anywhere near this place. I would go every day. Oh, and the coffee is good, too.

Artists across the stree from Cafe du Monde

One of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District. I love cemeteries, and this one was unlike any I had seen. The tombs rise from the ground to create a city of the dead, and as I walked through the weathered crypts, even in broad daylight, I could see why NOLA has been the inspiration for classic vampire novels.

Tombs in Lafayette Cemetery

One drawback for me was that NOLA is definitely not a vegetarian-friendly city. One restaurant we chose for lunch offered a special made with sausage, but had a “vegetarian option available – with smoked duck.” Oh, yeah. But my hosts had exceptional taste, and we had a fantastic dinner at The Green Goddess where I was introduced to huitlacoche in the form of the restaurant’s “Spooky” Blue Corn Crepes.

My brief stay in NOLA was fun, and the city pulses with energy. I saw interesting architecture, listened to great music, and ate some delicious food. I can’t wait to go back.

A rooftop view of New Orleans

 

 

 


Jun 16 2011

Jellies!

Moon Jellies

 

The National Aquarium, Baltimore has a pretty cool jellyfish exhibit. “Jellies Invasion: Oceans Out of Balance” combines eerily lighted displays of jellies floating in futuristic tubes with educational material about the threat the creatures pose to the world’s oceans. They multiply like crazy and are invading new seas, changing the dynamics of these ecosystems. It’s curious that a brainless, spineless jellyfish can wreak such havoc (but, as is often the case, we humans are really to blame…).

If you go, I recommend buying tickets online in advance. You can bypass the crowds, pick up your tickets at at the will-call kiosks, and walk right in.


Jun 16 2011

Oh Say, Can You See? A Day at Fort McHenry

I spent an afternoon with a friend at Fort McHenry last weekend, and it was way more fun than I thought it would be. For those not familiar with this particular national monument, Fort McHenry was the site of a  battle during the War of 1812. The story goes that as the smoke cleared after a booming battle with the British navy, Francis Scott Key, a Baltimore lawyer who had been watching the action from vessel on the Patapsco River, saw the stars and stripes flying and was inspired to write the words to “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Fort McHenry opened a new $15 million Visitor and Education Center in March, which includes a library, gift shop and exhibits. I recommend beginning by watching the video about the battle and studying the exhibits before heading out to explore the fort. It has some interesting artifacts, including the handwritten lyrics of the National Anthem.

Admission to the visitor center and park grounds is free, but there’s a $7 fee (for adults) to visit the fort. We trekked across the field just in time to experience an artillery demonstration. Ranger Jim Bailey led a gun crew (dressed in 1800s-style uniforms) to show exactly how soldiers of that time would fire a portable cannon. First they walked through a dry run to explain all the steps, and then (after moving the gun away from the crowd of spectators) they fired. Those concerned with safety will be happy to know they used only gunpowder without a cannonball. Even though I knew it was coming, the flash and BOOM was startling. And this was one of the small cannons! I can imagine how thunderous it was the day of the battle.

 

Ranger Bailey leads the cannon crew.

We then explored the fort and it was interesting to notice little differences from modern life, such as the bunks in the sleeping quarters—they were tiny!

It was a fun and relaxing afternoon, but a curious thing happened as I watched the film at the visitor center, which set the tone for the day—as the National Anthem played and the screen lifted to show a giant American flag waving over the fort, I actually got a little choked up. A song I’d heard a hundred times at baseball games and 4th of July celebrations suddenly felt new. I hadn’t even toured the exhibit or explored the fort yet, but something about being in the place where that song originated was unexpectedly powerful.


Jun 14 2011

The Baltimore Years

We moved to Baltimore just in time for the Blizzard of 2010, but despite the less-than-warm welcome, Charm City is turning out to be a much more interesting place to live than I expected.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor

This chapter in my life – I’ll call it “the Baltimore years” – is a fun time of discovery so far. Leaving St. Louis after eight years, I realized there was so much I still hadn’t done. I never went to the Forest Park Balloon Race.  I only went to a concert at The Pageant once, and it was a great venue. Why didn’t I go back? We had season tickets to The Muny one year (which was so much fun!), but I never went to the Shakespeare Festival in the park even though I thought about it every summer. I never even made it to Soulard for St. Louis Mardi Gras. I don’t want to make the same mistake here, so I take every opportunity I can to explore something new. Seriously, life is just too short.

Delicious pizza at Iggies!

In the first year, I’ve discovered some fantastic restaurants–Woodberry Kitchen in Hampden, Iggies Pizza in Mt. Vernon, and Pazo in the Inner Harbor, to name a few. And each neighborhood has it’s own personality. I’ve checked out a few museums, visited some historic sites, and played tourist with visiting family and friends.

I live in Towson, just north of the city line, and the suburb has charms all its own. It’s a curious mix of families, retirees, young professionals, and college students. You wouldn’t think it would work, but it does. I love that I can walk downtown to restaurants and bars–there’s even a block party with live music every Friday night from May to September.

So in this blog space I’ll share what I’m discovering in Charm City, as well as other adventures in life. Enjoy!