Well, my birthday is tomorrow, and so, over the past weekend, as a treat, I decided to pay a visit to a newly discovered establishment in Canton, just outside of Baltimore city. After I parked my car, I reached for my camera bag which felt lighter than usual, only to discover that I left the most essential equipment, the camera itself, at home. So, I entered the restaurant on a fairly quiet Sunday night with my phone camera, equipped with an antiquated 2-year old technology, and crossed my fingers on how the photos would turn out.
Located on the corner of a residential block, Blue Hill Tavern looks like a new condo building attached to rows of weathered brick houses. The decor is clean and modern, with smart light fixtures and above-grade furniture looking inviting to the customer. For my first course, I went for a daily special – Duck Confit Gnocchi. The well-plated over-sized dish looked appetizing but I was surprised by the amount of shaved parmesan dish sitting on it (I took two-thirds off for the photo). One bite into it pointed towards a richness packed into the small plate. The pieces of shredded duck were a bit firm and salty from a real confit cooking and paired with some lightly spongy proper gnocchi. The rich sauce had the distinctive poultry note, reminding me of rich reduced demi-glace, made tangy by some hint of white wine and tomato. If weren’t for the slightly high sodium quotient, this would have been the perfect opener for me, but the dish pointed to some skillful attentive hands.
The online reviewers were raving about the Mushroom Wellington and I knew what was going to be my main course. What arrived was an impressive dome that piqued my curiosity right away. One bite into it made my eyes roll backwards, and I knew this was a winner right away. The base was a slice of meaty portabello mushroom, supporting a mound of chopped mushroom duxelles and tangy chevre cheese, and topped by a helmet of fresh spinach leaves and buttery flakey laced puff pastry. Every element was perfectly seasoned that paired well with each other. The mushroom flavors were echoed in the sauce that tasted like gourmet mushroom sauce made sweet from some shallots. The side of carrots were unfortunately unremarkable, maybe due to the lack of quality or the boiling process, further compounded by a banal treatment of butter and bare seasoning. But that didn’t detract me from my euphoric moments with the Mushroom Wellington that hit the right notes in terms of texture, flavor, and the gestalt package. It satisfied this omnivore on all fronts and I couldn’t stop dreaming about it after the meal.
Having perused the dessert menu early on, I saved room for the Granny Smith Apple Tart. With the first forkful, the flavors pointed towards the familiar but taken to a new direction. The apple slices were paper-thin sitting on an almond paste base, topped with vanilla ice-cream and caramel sauce. What made this successful was the attention and skill given to all the various quality elements: soft slices of sweet tart apple, an enticing heady almondy pastry, good real vanilla ice-cream, and slightly bitter but not overly sweet caramel sauce that was not the usual cloying stuff. I’m glad that I made room for this sweet ending as not only was it good-eats, but it gave me an indication of how well this kitchen can also master this course.
Blue Tavern Hill is worth a visit and a write-up. With every course, I got a sense of their mission and their kitchen skill level, from the rich tasting duck confit and light well-made gnocchi, to the to-die-for Mushroom Wellington that was the highlight of the evening and made for some gastronomic reveries, and to the Apple Tart that was something not out of the regular block. Aside from some minor missteps in a couple of the above dishes, this place is worth the trip to Baltimore, a city that keeps surprising me with its good food. And to savor 3 courses for around $40, I will be making more trips northward, especially for that heavenly Mushroom Wellington.