This was the year that I ate my way around the world—without having to leave Baltimore where global cuisine continues to soar in this city. From France to Japan to Peru to Spain to England to India (and America, too!), these are my picks for best bites of 2018.
Pan con Tomate at La Cuchara
Think of this dish as a Basque Country take on pizza—grilled bread brushed with high-quality Spanish olive oil and topped with crushed tomatoes and garlic and a sprinkle of flaky fleur de sel. You can pick from a variety of mouth-watering toppings like boquerones (white anchovies) or Spanish olives. I like mine topped with near-transparent sheets of hand-carved, melt-in-your-mouth Ibérico ham.
Robata Prawns at Azumi
There’s nothing quite like the robata prawns at this Harbor East sushi emporium. Earlier this year, the staff took a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun and brought back new ideas to refresh the already excellent menu swimming with some of the highest quality seafood in the city. The Robata prawns—think Japanese barbecue cooked over hot charcoal—are one example. The shellfish, sourced from the waters of the Pacific, is sweet and spicy, and nearly lobster-like in size. When the meat was gone, I shamelessly sucked on the shells.
Grilled Cheese Spiked at Artifact Coffee
It may seem strange to single out an item that graces every children’s menu in America, but if that’s what you’re thinking, then you’ve never tried the grilled cheese at Artifact. The sharp cheddar cheese oozes into every nook and cranny of the buttery house-made potato bread, but what really makes it is the fact that the sandwich comes “spiked” (a no-so-subtle reference to co-owner and James Beard Award-winning chef Spike Gjerde) with onions and house-made pickles. Kids will like it, but it’s also a grilled cheese that any adult would love. I’m among them.
Ceviche at Puerto 511
Having spent eight days eating ceviche night and day (and day and night) in Peru last August, I feel like I’m practically a certified ceviche specialist. The charming Puerto 511, run by Peruvian-born chef Jose Victorio Alarcon and his wife, features three types of ceviche—and you can’t go wrong with any of them, though I favor the one listed on the menu as “Clasico,” which is advertised as: Best ceviche in Balitmore ever.” Anywhere else, that might sound like hyperbole, but here it’s the total truth. This ceviche has all the hallmarks of authenticity: kernels of oversized Andean corn, hunks of glazed sweet potato, and leche de tigre (tiger’s milk), the citrus-based marinade used to cure the seafood, and, of course, piles of fabulous fish.
Chicken for Two at Chez Hugo
The Italians have their pasta, the Greeks have their lamb, and the French have their chicken. Steve Monnier’s take, the poulet roti au foin pour deux—or the whole roasted chicken for two—entails a painstaking six-day process. The process begins with marinating the meat for many hours, slow-roasting the bird on a bed of hay, and cooking different cuts in the oven to make sure that every part of the bird is prepared just so. The result: A bird that’s juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside, and perfect from breast to thigh. As they say, Rome—or Paris, in this case—wasn’t built in a day.
Beef Wellington at Gordon Ramsay Steak
The Michelin-starred celebrity chef brings his signature dish to Gordon Ramsay Steak inside the Horseshoe Casino. Believe the hype—the chateaubriand is slathered with Dijon mustard and stuffed with duxelles and chestnut mushrooms, then wrapped in a blanket of transcendent puff pastry that could just as well be considered dessert for dinner.
Goa fish at Ananda
Pretty much anything you point to on the menu at this romantic Fulton restaurant is a winning dish, but the whole pan-fried fish off the coast of the Subcontinent is coated in roasted garlic, tamarind, and scallions. It bursts with flavor and spice.
Macarons from Sacré Sucré
There’s no such thing as a bad cookie, but the exquisite gems at this new Fells Point bakery rival anything I’ve eaten in Paris. Unlike most macarons, which are made with buttercream or artificial flavoring, these treasures are packed with fresh fruit. Try the fig or the raspberry and count it as your fruit serving for the day.
Fried Chicken at Rye Street Tavern
If I’m going to commit to fried chicken, it had better be great. This dish, served with a pickle spear and a biscuit, lives it up to the hype. To perfect his recipe, chef Andrew Carmellini traveled to the country’s best chicken shacks and came up with this version. Consider spicing it up by ordering the chicken fried with Old Bay.
Salmon at Neopol Savory Smokery
This Belvedere Market purveyor features fish that is smoking delicious. Neopol highlights house-smoked Scottish salmon with a variety of wet and dry rubs, from candied ginger and dried cranberry to cracked peppercorn and green tea. I’ve tried them all. My favorite is the Herbs de Provence spice rub that adds a note of savoriness to the sweetness of the salmon.