Woodberry Kitchen and a Moscow Mule

One of the best questions anyone has ever asked me was, “What was your favorite restaurant experience?” I thought it would be a simple answer but as I sorted through my memories trying to pick out the perfect one, I realized it wouldn’t be as easy of a task as I thought. I began to see just how many factors are at play in determining a truly memorable and life-changing moment at a restaurant. It becomes so much more than just the food, though that it important as well. It involves the people with whom it was shared, or not shared at all, the circumstance in which it occurred, the service, the ambiance, etc. A best restaurant experience is a time where for the two hours or so in which it takes place, the rest of the world seems to disappear an all that matters is that moment, a moment that can never quite be matched. Really, with that said, only a handful of my experiences can be truly deemed as great.

I did have one of those memorable moments recently at a restaurant I’ve been dying to visit for a while now, Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore. I took my mom for Mother’s Day brunch. It’s a place where it is not difficult to relax, where people make great food with even better ingredients. A place where the utmost care seems to go into every little detail yet at the same time you get a sense that everyone seems to be rather care-free. A place where conversation flows easily, drifting out of the mouth and up across the high beamed ceilings and around the locally handmade glass light fixtures. Where the kitchen has nothing to hide but rather makes itself known with a roaring wood-fired oven and things like coffee and cocktails are treated as an art rather than an afterthought. Dishes are simple and need no fancy plating, further prompting sharing and appreciation of the fine ingredients. It was everything I wanted it to be and more.

I wish I could have tried so many more items on the menu but I feel like we did well with our selections. I started with a Moscow Mule, made with ginger beer, lime syrup, and organic vodka, and served in its traditional copper mug with lots of ice. Now normally I’m not a big cocktail fan and generally stick to beer but this is certainly an exception to that rule. It’s cold, it’s refreshing, it’s pleasantly spicy and packs an nice punch. My mom and I also started the meal with a simple bowl of fresh cut spring strawberries, soaked in bitters and doused with a generous spoonful of tarragon scented Chantilly cream.

My entrée was a wood-fired oven breakfast pizza with maple sausage, potatoes, cheddar cheese, pickled chiles, and two eggs, just barely set, so that the yolk oozed over the pizza like a nice rich sauce to offset the heat from the chiles. The crust was blackened and blistered perfectly and chewy and light inside. My mom got the asparagus and potato frittata, served in an individual cast-iron skillet. We ended by sharing a beautifully delicate pecan scone, served warm, and maple lattes made by their nationally acclaimed baristas. Seriously, best cup of coffee I’ve had in my life.

The meal really stayed with me a good while after the experience was all over. I craved pizza even more so than normal and dreamt of that Moscow Mule. The warmer days are approaching and I realized I needed to get a recipe figured out in preparation for the sweltering summer evenings. I’m currently at the beginning of what I think is going to be a big home-brewed soda kick (just bottled up some grapefruit-hibiscus soda yesterday) so naturally I started with a batch of ginger beer. You can find the recipe here. Once it was ready, the rest was easy – a bottle of grey goose, some limes, a batch of simple syrup. Hopefully my own concoction will tide me over until I can get over to Woodberry again. My birthday is coming up…in two months…

Moscow Mule
makes one drink

½ cup ginger beer (homemade is certainly not necessary. My favorite brand is Fentimans. It’s a little hard to find so Gosling's will do in a pinch)
1 oz good vodka
1-2 tsp. simple syrup (recipe here)
Lime juice

Fill a rocks glass (or a cupper mug, if you have one) with ice and pour over the vodka. Add the ginger beer, 1 tsp. of the simple syrup, and a small dash of lime juice. Stir to combine. Give it a taste and add the other tsp of simple syrup, if desired. Some ginger beers are sweeter than others so you may or may not need the extra sugar. Kick back and enjoy.

Birthday Weekend and Volt Restaurant

This past weekend was one of the best I can recall in quite a while. It was the weekend of my 21st birthday and was filled with day after day of extraordinary eating. I mean, what better excuse to gorge on extraneous amounts of rather unhealthy yet delicious things than it being you birthday. Its just one of those times you have to live a little.

I had a great party at my house on Friday where friends and family came over for eating and celebrating. I cooked up a Southern feast (because I am crazy and actually like to cook my own birthday dinner) complete with chicken and andouille gumbo, cucumber and sour cream salad, southern pecan and apple salad, and an amazing citrus peach cobbler (recipe to come). 

Saturday, my actual birthday, was very special because my sister Nia came home from Boston for the weekend. We had awesome Mexican food at La Sandia Restaurant along with a pitcher of Sangria (my first legal drink!) and though my belly was full of shrimp enchiladas and grilled plantains all day, I still saved room for an evening snack of sourdough, Robusto cheese, and fig and walnut butter. But that’s not all! Nia and I also made strawberry buttermilk ice cream that evening from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams (my birthday present from her) that we devoured as our late-night movie snack.

But the best eating of the weekend took place on Sunday when my mom, dad, Nia, and I went to brunch at Volt Restaurant in Frederick MD, acclaimed restaurant of Top Chef’s runner up, Bryan Voltaggio. I’ve wanted to go for ages so I figured my 21st birthday would be an amazing opportunity to finally go. And although they offer great things for both lunch and dinner, I had to choose brunch, my favorite meal of the day where sweet meets savory for some of the most innovative and delicious food out there.

Volt is stunning inside and out. Inside the old brick building is a modern and sleek interior, both very classy and elegant yet with slightly masculine and rustic touches. Walls and linens are bright white while the ceilings are painted chocolate brown. Modern geometric light fixtures hang down, lighting the rainbow colored graphic prints on the walls, each portraying the various shops and restaurants in downtown Frederick. And servers, though dressed in white shirts, black pants, and ties, walk around in Converse sneakers. The atmosphere was very relaxed yet little did I know I was about to receive the most attentive and flawless service I could imagine.

Although our meal was a three-course prix fixe with six starters, seven entrees, and four desserts to choose from, we still received a plethora of food outside the main meals. We were first served fennel pollen dusted bread sticks to munch on as we perused the food menu and I sipped on my celebratory glass of champagne. Later, we got to pick from the breakfast breadbasket. This was a hard decision with about six breads to choose from. But, with the four of us plus a double dip into the basket between main course and dessert, we managed to try all of them but one. My first pick was the bacon and sage biscuit, a light a fluffy number speckled with huge pieces of apple wood smoked bacon. My second choice was sweeter, a citrus scone filled with lots of lemon zest and topped with a crunchy sugar crust. Both, smeared with local butter, were so delicious. And if that wasn’t enough, we also could not resist ordering the maple bacon doughnuts off the accompaniments part of the menu so we could each have a taste of this salty and sweet delight.

But finally, our menu items arrived with a brigade of four servers and they swooped the plates in front of each in our party at the exact same moment, landing between our always refreshed and replaced silverware. Our wonderful waiter then would go on to explain the details of each of our dishes before leaving us to indulge. For the first course, I chose the goat cheese ravioli made with black squid ink pasta and local Cherry Glen Farm goat cheese. Surrounding the perfectly al dente rounds were kernels of charred sweet corn and Miatake mushrooms and a balsamic brown butter sauce. Though rich and creamy, the dish was just enough, leaving my taste buds satisfied but my stomach still ready for the many more things to come. The other notable starter was Nia’s. She ordered Bryan Voltaggio’s signature “Spring Garden”, and array of beets, greens, carrots, other vegetables, dressing, and coffee grounds arranged to resemble a garden in the dirt.

I was also extremely satisfied with my main course. Most times, when I go to a fancy restaurant, I tend to order fish just because we don’t make it much at home so it is always to treat to get it. And, I trusted that in a restaurant like Volt, it would be a really fresh and good quality fish, cooked just right. I was right to assume this because it was one of the best pieces of fish I’ve ever eaten. I ordered the halibut, served alongside a farro and spring bean risotto, tomato fondue, and anise hyssop. The salty crust on top of that piece of fish was unbelievable and I held each bite in my mouth, savoring the juiciness and the terrific flavor. The accompaniments were delicious as well, mild enough to let the fish shine while still aiding in enhancing its flavor.

As we waited for the dessert, I was yet again presented with another unexpected part of the meal, a special birthday dessert, complete with candle. Funnily enough, it actually turned out to be my favorite dish of the entire meal. It was a mini vanilla bean and pistachio semifreddo, flavored with chocolate flecks and orange zest and set in an elegant spiraled mold. I guess since I’ve been experimenting with ice cream lately, I was even more excited by this, but nonetheless, its taste was almost indescribable and I will definitely be experimenting with these flavors in the future. The texture was different than ice cream, icier yet also denser and more custardy. It was light and not too rich so it served as a refreshing palate cleanser before second dessert.

Finally, among the four of us, we ordered three of the four desserts (no one got the cheese plate for dessert) so we all shared and got to try these amazing confections. We also got a cafetiere of Highlander Grogg coffee to accompany the desserts, a sweet butterscotch flavored coffee that was strong and absolutely delicious. For dessert, Nia ordered a rich goat cheesecake paired with black raspberry sorbet, almond crumbs, a citrus cookie, and rhubarb cookie. My parents got the peach tarte tatin, served with mascarpone ice cream, cinnamon pudding, crème fraiche, and few other droplets of sauces. They really enjoyed this as a refreshing a seasonal way to end the meal. But I could not resist the dessert called “textures of chocolate” which turned out to be a gastronomic piece of art and yet another inspiration for my lifelong goal of going to pastry school. Amongst a snaking strip of chocolate mousse were pools of chocolate caramel, cocoa nibs, chocolate ice cream, chocolate dust, and burnt chocolate crisps. It was so rich yet I ate every bite, not daring to leave any bit of this amazingness on the plate. Finally, as the last plates were cleared, we each received a gift bag to take home, filled with a fresh blueberry crumb muffin.

My 21st birthday brunch was a meal that I will remember for the rest of my life. It was spent with those that I love while eating wonderful food. I can’t think of anything better.