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Wit and Wisdom Tavern, Harbor East - Chef Benjamin Lambert in the Four Seasons Hotel - Closing January 1, 2019


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I popped into Wit & Wisdom last night for some small plates and dessert before seeing a movie. First, the place is beautiful, large, and packed with business travellers. It does not feel like it is in Baltimore.

My friend and I started with some nice cocktails- jalisco sour and a Singapore sling.

We shared several small plates- the housemade ricotta with eggplant & walnuts, the Anson Mills hush puppies with Crystal's & honey sauce, a fall beet, parsnip, squash and Benton's ham, Congee with duck tongue confit, egg and onion rings, and brussel sprouts with apples.

Everything was pretty outstanding.

I am excited pastry chef Chris Ford is in Baltimore. We shared a maple custard with orange toffee, bourbon, and peanuts and the "Baltimore Bar", which was chocolate mousse, peanut butter ganache, topped with chocolate, with pretzels and peanuts. Again, both were great plates.

I look forward to going back sometime soon to try the entrees, but mostly to try other desserts.

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I had an amazing birthday meal here on Wednesday. After being politely greeted by every staff member we passed from the valet through the hotel to the restaurant, we were seated at an ideal table with both a view of the open kitchen area where everything is cooked in the wood fire oven and a pretty much unobstructed view of the harbor (and a cute little white and orange cat, named Ollie or Kat depending on who you talk to who apparently hangs around outside and entertains guests :D ). Two of us started with cocktails. I had The Company, which was recommended and which I had also seen mentioned in a review online. I found it to be well balanced and delicious. A friend had a cocktail that had scotch, port, and brown sugar - we all loved the mug it was served in more than the drink itself.

There were 4 of us, but again only 2 got appetizers. I got the absolutely melt in your mouth bison tartare with green farro and accents of watercress, what I believe was parm, and housemade crackers. It was outstanding. I learned later that they actually use bison heart for this dish. A friend had the porridge with duck tongues. It was described as very "ducky" before ordering. It was certainly rich, but the tongues are braised and melt in your mouth tender.

The restaurant has a focus on regional ingredients and uses very old tavern comfort food recipes and puts a modern twist on them. That's particularly apparent in their entrees, which are split into four categories - cast iron, oak fired, rotisserie, & braised - and all cooked in their various preparations somehow using the wood fire. Between the four of us, we had the braised pork, the braised lamb, the cast iron skate wing, and the oak fire rabbit. I don't really care for lamb unless there's almost no lamb flavor to it, which was of course not the case with this dish, but I did try it and the meat was so tender and fall off the bone. By the end of the meal, the only thing left on my friends plate were a couple of completely clean bones - even the marrow had been scooped out of them and eaten. The skate wing was one of my favorite things that I tasted and I would certainly recommend it - just perfectly cooked and served alongside some cauliflower florets with a tasty brown butter sauce. The braised pork is the loin wrapped in belly and served with a sausage on top, all slow braised in the wood fire. My dish, which was the highlight for me was the rabbit cooked 3 ways. The loin was pounded out and coated in a very flavorful coating. I'm not sure how they cooked it, maybe it was fried in a cast iron skillet, but it was cooked to crispy perfection. The second preparation was a boudin, which was so juicy it literally burst when I cut into it with my knife. And finally the leg was slow cooked and served off the bone. It was accompanied by sweet potato puree and brussels sprouts (which are really just a few leaves for garnish) and an incredibly delicious sauce.

We also added 2 sides, the brussels sprouts and the mushroom gratin. The gratin, a rich creamy earthy mushroom dish with crispy fried shallot "rings" on top was outstanding. I am pretty sure we each could have eaten our own. The brussels sprouts, while good, didn't have much substance to them. The leaves were separated and cooked with quince and I think maybe a bit of maple. They were cooked perfectly and I enjoyed them, but I don't think I would order them again. I do think anyone who thinks they don't like brussels sprouts would appreciate this dish for its uniqueness.

I had read good things about both the Baltimore bar and the maple custard, so we went ahead and ordered both despite our better judgement (we were quite full at this point). Everyone really liked both, but I was totally focused on the Baltimore Bar. I don't really even like rich chocolatey desserts, especially when mixed with PB, but the textures in this dessert were outstanding and I couldn't stop eating it. It's a must order if you eat here.

Service was outstanding, wine service was great as well (of course I'm biased since I know Julie),and the atmosphere is great. I can't say enough good things about this meal. And at the price point, it would be easy for me to identify flaws if they were there to be identified, but there honestly wasn't even anything to nitpick about here. I'd like to go back and enjoy sitting in the lounge area around the bar. They've also put a new coffee shop in next door, Lamill Coffee that sounds like it has really amazing things and has a beautiful interior.

ETA: I forgot to mention that they did know it was my birthday. They brought out a small piece of cake with 2 scoops of ice cream with a candle in it alongside the other desserts, but the nicest touch was a card with a hand written note thanking me for choosing W&W to celebrate and wishing me a happy birthday, signed by what looked like a majority if not all of the staff.

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This is very last minute, but there's a winemaker dinner being held at Wit & Wisdom tomorrow night:

Stolpman Wine Dinner

Wednesday, October 24 at 6:30pm.

Peter Stolpman, owner of Stolpman Vineyards in California, hosts an intimate wine dinner pairing his family's Central Coast wines with Chef Clay Miller's 5-course tasting menu. $99 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity. Limited availability. Reservations required. Please contact Shannon Toback at shannon.toback@fourseasons.com or 410-576-1464.

You can get the menu for the dinner by emailing Shannon. I have it, but it's a PDF file so I can't cut & paste it.

I'll be there with a friend.

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Not the best time for a review, but if I don't do it now it won't happen. Won't go into details for each course, but will say that my faith in Wit & Wisdom, after hearing some negative reviews from people who have dined there recently is renewed. I do think that dinners like this bring out the best in the chef, but as far as it relates to the restaurant, the oyster stew - a totally hedonistic, gluttonous, basically fucking fantastic dish - that was our second course and the absolute highlight of our meal is now available on the menu (a vermouth broth with "confit cheese", bacon, and fried salsify). Sadly the Stolpman L'Avion Roussanne that was paired with it (and is a phenomenal wine, please seek it out) is not available on the menu (to my knowledge, at least not by the glass), but the 2010 (or maybe 2011 by now) sauvignon blanc is and as the least expensive white on their by the glass list is an excellent value.

Having not looked at the bottle list tonight, I don't know if any of the other Stolpman wines are on their list, but if they are, I would definitely encourage you to try them. In the Santa Ynez area, the winery focuses primarily on Rhone varietals and sauvignon blanc, with plantings in limestone "soil". They have a very unique topography and truly strive to make excellent wines at all levels. I felt the value on these wines was quite excellent. The best example I can give is the L'Avion, which comes from vines that 20 years ago were grafted from 80 year old French vines and retails at under $40.

My one complaint about Wit & Wisdom is the service at the bar. They make a damn good cocktail (they're well known for their "The Company" and they make a damn good Aviation as far as I'm concerned), but the service is really lacking. If you're busy and can't get to me to take an order anytime soon, fine, I can live with that, but when I come up, acknowledge me, hand me a drink menu, and let me know that it will be a minute. Don't look at me repeatedly and then continue about your business, only to walk up and ask me what you can do for me 10 minutes later. You know what you can do for me? You can get me a fucking drink menu!!

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post-6231-0-19121400-1398393594_thumb.jpDyan Ng's food doesn't taste like Baltimore, but I think that she'll fit in quite beautifully.

Ng is the new pastry chef at the Four Seasons in Baltimore, and she is the star of a new monthly special at the hotel's Wit & Wisdom restaurant.  It's a splurge night.  A four-course dinner that calls itself "progressive dessert" and comes across as imaginative, delicious fun.

Envision four courses -- plus a special cocktail to start -- where Ng and her team take ingredients that you'd see in dessert and create a real meal.  No hard line between sweet and savory.  Dishes instead that play with that line, sometimes skipping across bite to bite.

Start off with the cocktail.  Strawberries with rhubarb, swimming in gin with diced cucumber.  Icy, refreshing and bursting with flavor.  We sipped a bit and then scooped out the dessert-y remains.  We learned the strawberries were injected with basil-filled syringes.  Pretty cool.  

Two courses in, my wife said she was leaving me to live in Harbor East -- Handbags in the City, great food, and an easier commute to work.  That was the avocado sherbet talking.  Creamy.  Like a lighter fruit.  Taste of cilantro, grapefruit, crunch of almonds, and the crispiest, lightest meringue that I have ever tasted.  

Again, the "progressive dessert" is a splurge meal.  The tasting menu -- offered on the third Tuesday of every month -- costs $69 for four courses with an optional wine pairing that runs another $40.  But you're not going for dinner.  You're going for adventure.

And you're getting something genuine.  Ng's food tastes like she is really excited.  We played with our food -- cracking through a sugary lid on the "olive" course into a bowl that mixed white chocolate and olive, pine nuts and golden raisins.  The entire atmosphere is classy without being haughty.  It's infectious fun to be served something like a chocolate risotto touched with foie gras.  It made us think of DC food, or New York food, a surprise for Baltimore.

post-6231-0-43410600-1398393582_thumb.jpOf course, we had an unexpected advantage.  I was invited to Wit & Wisdom last month as Don Rockwell's representative.  I misunderstood and thought we were going to a reception.  It turned out to be the full dinner at our own table, which Wit & Wisdom gave us for free.

So I have to admit that I didn't pay when I say you should really get the wines.  I'm neither a big drinker nor a wine expert, but the paired wines absolutely improved the night.  Ask about each glass.  The sommelier has an enthusiastic explanation for each choice, and the wines really provided the contrast that she predicted -- sweet to a course that with salty olives, acid to a course that was rich.  Dishes had one flavor on their own, then something different when I followed the food with wine.  The last wine was actually bitter.  I would not drink a bottle on its own, but a small pour contrasted beautifully against the earthiness of the "tomato" course.

Back to that food.  That final course plate could have looked just like ice cream.  But the ice cream was made of blue cheese, and the dish rounded out with dried tomatoes, goat cheese, and ketchup crisps.

That's the test.  You'll love Ng's "progressive dessert" if you're the kind of diner who is intrigued by the idea of crunching ketchup crisps.  This dish wasn't "sweet and savory" like salt on oatmeal cookies.  We literally couldn't tell if the dish was sweet or savory.  Tomato is sweet.  Goat cheese is savory.  Blue cheese sounds savory, but the ice cream was probably the sweetest part.  Each bite was different.

Wit & Wisdom's fun reminds us of a splurge dinner years ago at Minibar.   Minibar's game is structure.  The flavors are clear and accessible -- it's just that the form is surprising and one course made "smoke" come out our noses.

Ng's table displayed all kinds of modern technique, but her game emphasizes flavors.  New combinations that made us more active than I remember being at a meal.  Amazed by how a dish looked, then talking about how it tasted.  As we ate the "risotto" course, my wife wondered aloud if she really liked the chocolate-pate taste.  The flavors are so unusual that it felt natural to question each bite.  But Ng pulled off the adventure.  It was really delicious and unique, so the spoon kept going back for more.

To try Dylan Ng's "Progressive Dessert," you should make reservations through Wit & Wisdom's Web site.  Make plans now for Tuesday, May 20.  They serve from 6:30 to 8, and Wit & Wisdom will just get more beautiful as the days extend and dinner comes with a sunset over Baltimore.  You can also try Ng's work throughout at the Four Seasons -- in pastries of the Lamill coffee shop or desserts at Pabu.

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We went into the Four Seasons today while up Baltimore way to grab a coffee at LAMILL. Alas, LAMILL is no more as I've indicated separately so that thread and the Baltimore Dining Guide can be updated.

With no other options inside, dropping temperatures outside and a half-hour to kill before dinner, we headed into Wit and Wisdom.

Can't do a proper or especially thorough review on this since we didn't have a meal but can offer four thoughts.

First, repeating what an early visitor upthread wrote, it is a beautiful, elegant and very comfortable space typical of any Four Seasons property. Bar seating, tables and plush chairs and sofas with low, heavy wood tables.

Second, the only food we had was a plate of six oysters. Split between Chincoteagues and another Chesapeake type, these were very fresh with medium brine, larger size and excellent flavor. A few shell fragments which is a bigger deal here for a normally flawless Four Seasons.

Third, service was also typical for the brand. Professional, knowledgeable, engaging and intelligent in terms of striking the right balance between attentiveness and availability.

Fourth, on pricing, I always expect any Four Seasons cafe, restaurant or bar to be very expensive but predictably excellent. We had two glasses of their $6 Happy Hour special white wine, a Chilean Sauv Blanc that paired well with the oysters. The oysters, at $17 for six, certainly aren't value priced but I can resist noting they are a bit less expensive than the soon-to-open Kapnos Taverna in Ballston.

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Update: this is now a Michael Mina "Tavern" 

Decor has not changed, menu has - Sunday Brunch was one of the best we have had - from Crepes made to order to Omelette Station - and pretty much everything in between.  If you are looking for a great atmosphere (overlooking Baltimore Harbor), there is seating outside, and you can view the activity on the water while dining.  Servers never let our coffee cups hit less then 1/2 full, and promptly cleared dishes between visits to various stations.  They even have a kids bar, set down at a lower height for easier access, and it had PB&Js (crust removed), grilled cheese, breakfast sliders, chicken tenders etc. I would highly suggest reservations as the hotel has gotten busier and Brunch was busy when we arrived at 11 AM.

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2 hours ago, Ferris Bueller said:

Update: this is now a Michael Mina "Tavern" 

It always has been, no?

[BTW, thank you very much for not only replying to the original question, but also for posting in the three individual restaurant threads - this saves me so much grief you could not believe - everything is already in the Dining Guides.]

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6 hours ago, DonRocks said:

It always has been, no?

[BTW, thank you very much for not only replying to the original question, but also for posting in the three individual restaurant threads - this saves me so much grief you could not believe - everything is already in the Dining Guides.]

Perhaps - for some reason I thought it was a newer addition, but could be my error.

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