Charleston was opened by restaurateurs Tony Foreman and Chef Cindy Wolf in 1997 in the Harbor East neighborhood of Baltimore, MD. They now have at least 6 restaurants in the city. Chef Wolf offers a constantly changing menu and even cooked lunch at this place for Julia Child in 1999. Chef’s reputation is that she cooks at this, her flagship, most every night. Unfortunately she was not there when we visited and I wonder if that’s why our meal was so unsatisfactory. The food is a combination of French and Southern cuisines and she has been nominated 9 times for the James Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic award. The fairly large place enters from a side street, which is not where Google Maps directs you to go. The bar is to your right as we were led to a table that looked directly into the large open kitchen. Table sizes varied but all were set with white cloths and napkins and well-spaced, no music was in the background and the lighting was lowered. The menu offers prix fixe menu of 3-6 courses, which you pick from the entire menu, with optional wine pairings. Desserts are complimentary with your meal and an optional cheese course is available.
An amuse bouche was cauliflower soup and goat cheese on a crouton. The soup was lovely and the cheese bite was excellent.
Bread service included cornbread, raisin bread and French style. I tried all 3. The cornbread was slightly sweet and very good. The raisin was also sweet, studded with lots of white raisins inside the dense bread. The baguette style French bread was dense with a moderately crisp crust. The cornbread was my favorite if you were just munching.
Cornmeal fried oysters were served with Upland Cress and a lemon & cayenne mayonnaise. They were lightly dusted with cornmeal before frying and delicious. The mayo was also subtly flavored so it didn’t overwhelm the delicate taste of the oyster. Interestingly the server didn’t know where they were from but assumed they were local.
Rich lobster soup was with curry and made from an intense lobster stock reduction finished with cream and butter-poached lobster and curry oil, according to the menu. There was a fairly large pile of chewy, rubbery lobster meat in the center of the broth. While the broth was wonderful the lobster didn’t chew like a butter poached one. It was cold in contrast to the warm broth.
Grilled Veal Sweetbreads were with frisée salad, crispy hickory smoked bacon and a red wine vinaigrette. The bacon had an amazingly smoky flavor that was perfect with the sweetbreads. The grilling preparation of the sweetbread was marvelous. This was yummy.
Godfrey’s Farm Asparagus were topped with Vermont goat cheese, egg yolk, whole grain mustard and chive beurre blanc. The asparagus were peeled and perfectly cooked. The tasty vegetable worked well with the egg and seasonings.
Wild Burgundy Snails were mixed with garlic shallot butter, served in shell pasta on top of coco beans and emerald sauce. The beans were way undercooked in this one and the broth too salty. However the salty broth did help season the snails to bring out their flavor. The 2 big shells encasing the snails didn’t work for me and I expected more garlic flavor.
Risotto Milanese contained saffron, fresh English peas, 24-month aged Reggiano and Spanish La Bomba rice. Some of the peas were large and that made them dry but overall this had good flavor. It was finished with some mascarpone, according to the server. It was fairly runny and pretty good.
Pan-Roasted wild halibut was plated with oyster, button and shiitake mushroom fricassée and lemon beurre blanc. The mushrooms were great as was the sauce, but there wasn’t enough sauce to make up for the dryness of the overcooked fish.
Grilled Wild red snapper was plated with sauce Etouffee and tobasco scented rice. This one was more saucy but I didn’t like it as much as the beurre blanc on the halibut. It was definitely a strongly flavored dish but unfortunately it was another badly over-cooked fish.
Pan-roasted Hudson Valley Magret of duck was served with pan-seared foie gras, French green lentils and Goslings rum reduction. The duck was nicely cooked but tough. The foie gras slice was tiny but tasty. The lentils were so under-cooked they were hard and I found the topping of micro-greens annoying.
Grilled lamb rack chop was plated with baby artichokes, roasted baby carrots, saffron Basmati rice and lamb reduction. The New Zealand lamb had a decidedly fishy flavor which was unpleasant, even though it was cooked to a nice medium rare. The artichoke was cooked to mush and flavorless, however the carrots were sweet and lovely.
For dessert I had ordered the vanilla Mille-feuille when we placed our order but when it came time the server informed me they were out. He offered to throw in an extra dessert to make it up to me. Vanilla bean Creme brulee was with fresh raspberries and it was the best of the three. It had a good smooth texture and a nice sugary crunchy topping but was nothing besides a well done creme brulee.
Pineapple cake was with coconut rum chantilly and a strawberry & rhubarb compote. The coconut chantilly overwhelmed the cake’s flavor. The cake was quite dense and the sauce underneath thick. It would rate a yuk.
Manjari chocolate mousse cake was with raspberry sauce and raspberry medallion. This one was not bad if you could avoid the raspberry. There was a thick chocolate surrounding the lighter chocolate center but on the bottom was an awful raspberry cake like thing.
Last treats were an almond macaron with a pineapple center and dark chocolate with raspberry center. Both were intensely flavored and very sweet. You can see their remains in the top left plate.