Ikaros

Ikaros, Baltimore, MD

As you may have noticed, I have been focusing more on eats in the northern parts of the DMV, and as of late, I have delved into the Baltimore area judging by my last few blogs. So, when a coupon for a Greek restaurant in the latter area showed up, I knew I had to get it, partly due to the incredibly high ratings online, but also to the lack of more reviews on this Mediterranean cuisine on my site.  With such knowledge in mind, I anticipated a worthwhile culinary trip to the heart of B’more.

Avgolemono Soup, Ikaros, Baltimore, MD

Eggplant spread, Ikaros, Baltimore, MDThe city has its sketchy history, and driving through certain parts of it seems a bit surrealistic at times.  But the sight of Ikaros in the middle of it all was assuring by its large corner lot size as well as its aura of having stuck around for some time.  Even the dining room and bar area speak of many hungry mouths having passed through its doors.  After placing our order, we received the classic Greek soup, Avgolemono.  The first sip of it betrayed my expectation of I thought it was going to be.  Instead of a thick sour soup, what I savored was a bit more nuanced, with bits of softened moist rice (reminding me of Chinese congee) tasting savory from a light beef stock, and a delicate lemon flavor to perk the bowl up – my table mate and I truly enjoyed every sip from the large bowl.  The other appetizer to land on the table was Eggplant Salad.  After hearing our waitress’ explanation, it looked like what I expected – a vegetable spread. Unlike the usual Babhaganoush, what I tasted was quite different: boiled pieces of eggplant covered with a tangy creamy thick sauce made pungent by a heavy dose of garlic.  It was a rich dip indeed but its flavors were alluring and we eventually kept coming back to it. Touted as “its best at Ikaros”, I’m close to concurring with them from our tasting.

Spanakopita, Ikaros, Baltimore, MD

I had to order a perennial Greek favorite – Spinach and Feta Pie or Spanakopita.  What arrived took us by complete surprise.  It was a huge pie that could have been made into a main course or enough to feed more than two as an appetizer.  Digging into it, the phyllo dough was crispy with nearly no trace of grease (quite an anomaly), and the filling was a mixture of spinach and cheese that was both savory and intriguing to me.  The greens were devoid of its usual bitterness, but the use some Greek herbs added some deep dark notes that were sending my taste memory bank into a Sisyphian loop. The judicious amount of cheese was a combination of the salty feta tempered by a milder soft cheese that rounded off its jagged edges.  Together, the filling elements made a wonderful Aegean couple sealed by the perfectly cooked phyllo.  I would say that this is a must-order here.

Roast Breast of Lamb, Ikaros, Baltimore, MD Peas and Rice, Ikaros, Baltimore, MD

My dining companion’s order was changed due to a slight mix-up.  Instead of his order of Roast Leg of Lamb, what he got was the breast version.  The plate arrived well-assembled and it looked quite appetizing.  The pieces of meat were well-seasoned, still moist but cooked well, exuding its mild game notes. The stuffing of carrots added a level of sweetness, and the light gravy was both meaty and slightly tangy.  With this level of cooking, one can expect the leg to be equally impressive.  The side of rice was beyond a simple starch with a cinnamon note running through the tomato sauce that brought some interest to each forkful.  The peas were interestingly tangy but, unfortunately, it tasted like it was from a can, reminding me of British high-school fud.

Stuffed Zucchini, Ikaros, Baltimore, MD Greenbeans with Tomato, Ikaros, Baltimore, MD

For my main, I was attracted to the Stuffed Zucchini on the menu.  Two long stuffed vegetables arrived that looked both attractive and alluring.  The vegetable was just barely fork-tender, tasting savory from its cooking in some flavorful stock. Its stuffing of minced beef, tomato, and rice was moist, made aromatic from both some wood spices and fresh dill weed that permeated through the whole mix.  The lemon sauce on top added more richness as well as the tanginess to uplift the whole mix.  Instead of usual roasted potatoes as its side, I opted for my favorite – Greek greenbeans.  The vegetable was cooked very well, as how it should be, but not until the consistency from the can. The flavors were slightly sweet, cooked with tomato sauce without being too tangy.  Again, the dill weed note made it more interesting beyond its appearance.  This cooking would make any Yaya proud of this main as well as its side.

Greek Desserts, Ikaros, Baltimore, MDMaking sure that we had room despite the plethora of dishes, we were regaled with a couple of Greek desserts on the house, which this cuisine is known for.  Kataifi is dough vermicelli wrapped around walnuts and soaked in syrup.  The dough was still a bit crispy, the walnuts fresh and not rancid, and the syrup exuded a slight floral note without being cloying sweet.  The other was Galaktoboureka. It is basically a custard with some phyllo dough on top and soaked in honey.  The custard was quite rich and eggy, the phyllo dough crispy, and the sweetness was not overwhelming at all.  These bites were the perfect ending to this wonderful meal and I would save room for these not-too-sweet endings.

Ikaros, Baltimore, MDIkaros is worth the trip up to Baltimore for some wonderful traditional Greek food. What impressed me about the whole meal experience was the sense that tradition is completely respected here by a skillful kitchen who doesn’t compromise on quality or freshness.  These touches were evident in the lemon soup, the eggplant spread, the spinach feta pie and our mains of lamb breast and my stuffed zucchini, as well as nearly all of the sides.  Watching the guests enjoy their meal, you get a sense that these are returning customers who know that they will get the right treatment coming back to their regular haunt.  With an impressive first visit, I think I will soon be joining that happy lucky group after making this surprising yet rewarding discovery.

Ikaros Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shiso Tavern

Sisho Tavern, Baltimore, MD

There has been a trend in my restaurant visits as of late – more frequent visits to the suburban ones and an avoidance for dreaded Washington D.C. with all its logistic and parking issues that tend to ward off the suburbanite for a nightout in town.  With that in mind I recently saw an online offer for an eatery in Baltimore, and I decided to give it try, giving me an excuse to ventur off the well-beaten path and hoping to find new sites.  Located near the Baltimore Harbor, Shiso Tavern sits in Canton, a rather quaint neighborhood that has a couple blocks chocked with gunshot-style row houses that have been converted into rather trendy eating establishments.  Touted as an Asian-Fusion/Japanese restaurant, I took my seat by the light-flooding window area during lunch recently.

Sushi Nacho - Sisho Tavern, Baltimore, MD

Sushi Nacho - Sisho Tavern, Baltimore, MDOnline reviewers suggested to start with the Sushi Nachos.  What arrived was a trio of small bites, consisting of fried wanton skin, seared tuna, avocado, salmon tataki, and dressed with a spicy mayo.  The wanton skin was a nice touch instead of the regular nacho chip which added a flakier and more delicate feel to the bite.  The tuna and salmon were clean tasting, perhaps a bit too clean with no distinctive seasoning added except for a bit of spiciness on the tuna sear – but I wanted more to enhance their mild flavors.  The mayo added the spiciness as written on the menu, but it overwhelmed the mild fish flavors.  Perhaps some citrusy flavors (yuzu?) would have taken these up another notch and would have made them more successful.  Overall, it was not a bad opener.

Ramen Bowl - Sisho Tavern, Baltimore, MD

Many online suggested the Ramen Bowl and it was a photo of it in the online offer that tempted me at first.  The bowl arrived as shown: a mound of noodles covered with beansprouts, a boiled egg, shredded pork butt, slabs of pork belly, and a garnishing of red chilies and green onions.  The noodles were a bit overcooked for my taste (al dente is not just an Italian preference, but a Japanese one too), the egg beautifully boiled as it oozed out its barely cooked yolk into the soup, the pork butt moist and well seasoned with its slight fatty unctuousness, echoed by the same qualities found in the pork belly with its crispy exterior and savory inside, and the red chili added a fresh mild zing to the bowl along with its vegetal pepper note.  Ultimately, it has to be the broth that steals the prize.  The version here had a mild sweetness from the use of chicken to make the stock, and a slightly smoky sour note from the use of smoked pork.  Although it was not the usual traditional ramen bowl, I was thoroughly enjoying all the above qualities (sans slightly overcooked noodles) and I nearly sipped on the broth until its last drop.  I would say this bowl is worth coming back for.

Mochi Ice-cream - Sisho Tavern, Baltimore, MD

Mochi Ice-cream - Sisho Tavern, Baltimore, MD

My waitress told me that I had some credit left on the offer, and so, I ordered something sweet to end the meal.  Initially, I was honing in on the Jasmine Tea White Chocolate Tart, but, since they were out of it, I chose the Mochi Sampler.  What arrived was a dish on par with Japanese culinary aesthetic with the mochi ice-cream balls sliced and beautifully fanned on the plate.  The ice-cream flavors comprised of vanilla, which tasted like it should, strawberry, a bit fruity but artificial, and mango, which tasted totally artificial and candy-like to these well-conditioned Southeast Asian taste buds. But it was the stretchy glutinous rice dough around the frozen bites that impressed me with its smooth and gummy texture that I expect from a good mochi.  Not always one for desserts (and also on a slight diet), I passed the rest on to another diner who seemed to be transfixed by these cold bites.

Sisho Tavern, Baltimore, MD

Shiso Tavern is rather nice find.  It is a quaint place with little pretense and its food does not steer too far away as it maintains respect for culinary tradition.  The Sushi Nacho was quite tasty with the different textures and flavors coupled with the fresh seafood, the Ramen Bowl a savory and satisfactory sip that was full of flavors and porcine heavenliness, and the Mochi Sampler that was quite a treat with that elastic dough surrounding some funky ice-cream.  I think that Canton is a delightful find, away from challenging Washington D.C. or downtown Baltimore, and I know I will heading up to this area more often in the near future.

Shiso Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato