Sometimes dining is an “alternative dining experience” held in a backyard in the Waverly area of Baltimore. A suggested donation of $25 (and an unflagging determination to follow the RSS feed and try to sign up before the spaces fill up – a matter of minutes, actually) gets you in.
After months of trying, somehow my boyfriend, Nikc, managed to get us in. They sent him a suggested wine pairings email (it’s BYOB) and so we came armed with 3 bottles of wine (um… yeah,
we I like to get drizzy sometimes).
We got there and followed the direction of a sign that said to go ‘round back, up a perilous staircase and right under a tarp (the weather was crazy that night, tornado warnings and all). We got there exactly when it started, and most of the seats at a long table had been staked out already. We grabbed one (I threw my bag on a free chair) and hung around to see how it would pan out, as we sipped a free cocktail (tasted like Sambucca and was garnished with lemon). A couple that had claimed the seats next to ours introduced themselves, and asked if we had been before. Apparently this wasn’t their first experience –they seemed pretty damn thrilled with their previous sometimes dining events and were excited to share what that was like.
One of the servers/hosts of the event came out to say hi and offer her assistance, persuading everyone to slide down a seat so Nikc and I could sit together. We even got the chance to chat with one of the chefs, who came out to introduce himself and see what’s up with the new people he’d never seen before (apparently there are lots of regulars). Really nice guy, made us feel welcome, and he had an awesome hipster ‘stache and 1940s haircut to boot.
At each place setting was a menu – which until that point had been a big mystery.
(unabashedly swiped from the sometimes dining site)
At our end of the table were a group of MICA (art school) students. Towards the other end of the table (there were more than twenty people dining) were the older crowd. The people near us began pouring wine, so we did the same and decided to start with the first course: the cherry smoked cherry. It was exactly what it sounds like… a whole cherry that had been smoked with cherry wood – it was amazing. So amazing that Nikc and I tried to replicate it a few days later on his smoker… pretty successfully, too.
Soon after we finished our cherry (one. One cherry. Artfully placed in the center of each plate, mind you), the first course was brought out: several platters that contained mussels, fennel, and home-made croutons. Mussels kind of make me squeamish, but by that time the glass of wine I’d already downed made me pretty enthusiastic about them. I dove right in and nothing crazy happened. The mussels tasted… I dunno, like shellfish I guess. Nothing too strong or off-putting about them, other than their general appearance. The fennel and croutons were tasty, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I whole-heartedly am. Also! There was some kind of green mixed in with the dish that I am nearly 99% sure was a common yard weed! That don't befront me though -- I've been known to take random vegetation from the out of doors and taste it without qualms -- but I did yell it kind of loudly, so I hope I didn't gross anyone out. Redneck. (amirite?)
The next course, a chilled strawberry tomato soup with basil and chili oil was brought out soon after. The soup was great, but there was no way I felt like eating the big ass cereal bowl-sized portion they served, and it didn’t appear that I was alone in this, so it definitely wasn’t the wine speaking here. It ended up being a crazy combo that just worked somehow.
The next few courses, like the mussels, were served family style, which meant that there were probably five or six of us doling out portions from a single plate. Fortunately, everyone was considerate and careful about rationing the food (sounds like we were in some cold war or something, but you know how it is with family-style meals…). A fresh radish, cucumber and mint salad was served next, along with a whole grilled white fish (bronzini?) served atop some kind of cornmeal/sunflower seed infused flatbread (the kind like you get with Ethiopian food… spongy and soft). There was red sauce (not tomato-y at all, possibly red peppers though) on all of it.
Then, after we demolished the fish (it was pretty much just bones at this point – someone ate the eye!), the plates were cleared and we were brought a cocktail of aperol, watermelon juice, and something fizzy. It was bitter, but I think that’s the point of the aperol… which, someone at the table noted, was an Italian aperitif. I wasn’t expecting all of these cocktails, so you can imagine I was feeling pretty damn jolly at this point. I think everyone else was too, because everyone started getting really conversational and friendly.
Next up – three platters of braised pork shoulder with rosemary and grapefruit were brought out, which I have to say has got to be the best pork shoulder I’ve ever had anywhere. It was fall-apart tender, and not a smidge overdone/stringy (that’s what freaks me out most about huge cuts of pork… it gets real stringy, you know?). The rosemary taste was there and delicious, but the grapefruit flavor was lost on me until I nabbed an end-piece. Served alongside the pork was a fresh green pea (you could really taste the green part here, and it was great) pasta (home-made noodles, something wide like tagliatelle) with egg yolks floating on top. Somebody at the table tossed the pasta and the egg yolks ran through in an amazing better-than-sauce kinda way.
After everyone finished eating, the plates were cleared and a lady came around taking coffee orders. And not just “do you want coffee?” but “tea? Coffee? Espresso? Latte? Americano?”… I was pretty stuffed at this point, so I went with espresso. I’m glad I did (thanks, Nikc, for ordering it first and allowing me to cop your style), because the dessert was sa-weeeeeet. It was a tres leches cake with pistachios and sea salt, and it tasted ah-maze-ing with the dark, smoky espresso.
We left soon after that, because it was Sunday, and because we had to work Monday morn, and because I was drizzy and there was a scary staircase down to the street to contend with.
The only detriment, if you can call it that, to the whole night was the not knowing – menus are not posted prior to the event, and you have no idea what the crowd is going to be like. Fortunately, both were excellent. I want to go back, and like Nikc said, it would be super fun to somehow get a group in.
I wish I had taken more pics, but for now I’ll leave you with the only other pic I took – this is what happens when you make goofy faces in pictures – you get exploited:
Even more pics of the food served that night here.