"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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