Amidst a schedule of midterms and papers, I mark out the dates of my favorite bicentennial Baltimore tradition, Restaurant Week, on my calendar every year.
I hungrily scanned the official Baltimore Restaurant Week website in advance, reviewing all of the $30 prix-fixe three course dinner menus, and two course $15 lunches.
After multiple screen shots, group texts, and an ever-growing list on a sticky note, the long anticipated event finally arrived. And I indulged. Now I will relay the fruits of my culinary crusade, handing out awards for the most creative and tantalizing menu, the best boozy add-on, and of course, my favorite eatery of the week.
Best Menu: The Food Market
When you scan over numerous menus every day, you need to develop solid criteria with which to judge them:
First, a well-written menu should make your stomach audibly rumble, but that means more than just labeling everything as ‘mouth-watering.’ I want adjectives that are descriptive and tell me about the cooking process. For example, ‘brown butter seared scallops?’ Major noms. ‘Mouth-watering scallops?’ Meh.
On a more practical (and perhaps less snobby) note, my second points of menu judgment are variety and risk. I can order the house specials any day, but Restaurant Week calls for some innovation. Maybe I’m demanding, but I want something new.
And so with my rubric in mind, the award for the most creative menu goes to… The Food Market.
The menu descriptions were light-hearted and informative (ie celery root soup: brown butter, lobster, charred lemon, and parsley). A couple of unique dishes also graced the R. Week menu like cold fried chicken lettuce wraps, or the bacon wrapped shrimp wrapped scallops.
Let me say that again – bacon wrapped shrimp wrapped scallops. *Cue angelic background music*
Although Restaurant Week has concluded, you can still find smile-inducing menu items at The Food Market like spicy, cheesy, herby, creamy, winey, garlicky shrimp, served with torn bread.
Best Boozy Add-On: Barcocina
For a more adult R. Week experience, Barcocina fittingly offered cocktail and wine pairings with every dish for an additional $20.
If the almost margarita, a vodka-based concoction that’s finished with cranberry lime foam, doesn’t catch your eye, then consider the fact that they also offer dessert drinks, like the horchata cocktail. I dare you not to grin after drinking this rich cinnamon brew.
Luckily, the beverage menu at Barcocina is always banging, R. Week or not, as epitomized by the fact that they keep their house marg on tap. For a refreshing sip, I suggest the barcocina paloma, tequila cocktail with fresh squeezed lime and grapefruit juices, sprite, and agave nectar.
Overall Champ: Ten Ten
And now, for the main event, this distinguished award goes to Ten Ten, a quaint yet suave restaurant that’s tucked away on Fleet Street, in between Fells and Canton.
My appetizer, the Thai curry mussels, was the star of my meal. Curry mussels aren’t revolutionary to the food world, but the crustaceans at Ten Ten stood a shell apart thanks to a broth brilliantly balanced with cilantro, lemongrass and just the right amount of spice. Pro tip: order extra bread to sop all of the broth.
To make up for an unexpected menu shortage, I was fortuitously introduced to the most magical Brussels sprouts I have ever eaten.
The sprouts were cooked through to the center, resulting in a wonderfully crispy and flaky morsel. Sweet chili vinaigrette brightened up the fried factor and added a playful element of honeyed zing that vaulted this appetizer into Brussels sprout legend.
Lucky for you, these sprouts are a staple on the menu at Ten Ten, and you can get them for only $5 during happy hour. Or, try and make some at home.
For the main course, I tore into a shredded pork cheek roast, served on a bed of greens and topped with a delicate cake of cornbread. A thin but satisfyingly salty bacon broth poured over top kept the roast from drying out.
My biggest regret is that they didn’t give me ten more pieces of cornbread to accompany my bountiful plate of comfort food.
Finally, I opted for a lighter dessert to top off my evening. I chose the crème caramel custard, a dainty third course that was perched atop a delicate disk of black sesame cookie. Between bites of buttery cookie crunch and creamy, decadent custard, I tried to signal to my friends to try my dessert before I inhaled it all.
To those who are currently dialing Ten Ten to make a reservation, rest assured that you can order the Thai curry mussels on any given night (and to review, the Brussels sprouts as well).
Also, consider going on a Tuesday night for $1 oysters, or on Wednesdays for $29 Surf and Turf night that includes an 8-oz. New York strip, smoked mashed potatoes, and your choice of that night’s ‘surf’.
I’ve already made my next reservation at Ten Ten to get my sprouts fix. Apologies in advance if they run out.