Consistency is one of the hardest particulars for a restaurant to sustain. Which is one reason I always anticipate my visits to Charleston in Baltimore, presided over by executive chef and co-owner Cindy Wolf. Her poster-size menu always forces tough choices, the wine list never ceases to impress me, and isn’t it swell to know about a place where you don’t have to repeat yourself, because the dining rooms are invariably hushed? Dishes are more or less arranged from lightest to heaviest rather than from appetizers to entrees. From the roster, diners compose their own tasting menus: three, four, five or six courses. Lobster soup swirled with arugula and curry oils tastes like the distillation of a seaful of crustaceans, and as simple as it sounds, a salad of racy chorizo and nutty manchego is art for both the eyes and the tongue. Is there a finer bowl of shrimp and grits? A better marriage of rabbit confit and creamy macaroni? The only area kitchen that rivals Charleston’s Southern accents is Vidalia in Washington. Wild rockfish with lemon buerre blanc and sauteed oyster mushrooms could have been pan-roasted in Paris — or so the plate tastes. Crepes suzette with orange sauce makes you wonder why more places don’t serve the classic. Like the temple of fine cuisine that it is, Charleston welcomes you with a gift from the chef (Madeira-rich mushroom soup with hot cheese puffs in winter). Before you depart, a cheese cart rolls your way, and a tray of sweets lands on your linen-smoothed table. The service can be a touch cool, but the cooking at Charleston never fails to run haute.
2010 Fall Dining Guide
2010 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, October 17, 2010
"The chef is very talented," says the waiter. "I can recommend everything." Usually, I frown at such vague assistance, but two recent evenings at the suave Charleston in Baltimore support the accolades: Cindy Wolf has become one of the Mid-Atlantic's finest chefs. Her daily-changing tasting menu gives diners the option of three to six courses and the freedom to create a dinner of their own design from nearly two dozen dishes. It's not easy, given the many attractions. Burgundy snails on a puddle of creamy grits ringed by a shallot-and-parsley sauce, and a fragile crab cake enhanced with local sweet corn and a delicate mustard sauce, are at once French, Southern and sumptuous. House-made tarragon pasta tossed with goat cheese and toasted pecans is simple and sublime; rosy beef sporting a tiny empanada and displayed on a confetti-like chimichurri reimagines the typical steak dinner. Much is great. Everything is beautiful. Did I mention the fine wines curated by business partner Tony Foreman? Peach-colored roses on the broad tables, plush chairs, a tented ceiling and fabric-padded walls bring to mind a temple of haute cuisine -- in Europe. Charleston comes close. Keeping it from four stars: some lesser desserts, and service that's so rushed ("Goodeveningwatercocktails?") you'd swear FedEx was calling the shots.
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