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La Cuchara - Chef Ben Lefenfield's Basque-Inspired Cuisine in Meadow Mill on Clipper Mill Road and Union Avenue, Woodberry


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La Cuchara website

Located in the converted factory Meadow Mill across from Union Craft Brewing, La Cuchara opened in April from chef-owner Ben Lefenfeld, the former executive chef at Petit Louis. The review from the Baltimore Sun covers a lot and provides some pictures of the area, bar, grill (which I was impressed by - I'm not an expert on the subject but I'm told it's very unique to the region), and of course food. Gorelick seemed fairly impressed by most everything, so I'd recommend reading his professional review before diving into my amateur one.

"La Cuchara and its Basque Cuisine Make a Bold Entrance" by Richard Gorelick on baltimoresun.com

The menu changes daily, so don't expect to see the same things as below, but I'll outline everything anyways. I started off with a unique cocktail recommended by a friend, Bull's Blood (Red Beets, Green Hat Gin, Tarragon, Pepper, $11), which tasted like fresh beets. Obviously would not recommend if you don't like red beets because that's the bulk of the flavor, but it was extremely delicious to me. The other cocktail I had was the False Idol (Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Lemon, Agave Nectar, $10) described by Gorelick above and his review was spot-on so I won't say more other than I highly recommend it as well.

I decided to explore the pintxos and tapas last night (but I'm told the duck confit entree is amazing), so we started off exploring the pintxos available. Very small portions, mostly served on skewers, were readily available upon ordering as they were prepared at the bar where we were sitting. The Tortilla Espanola and manchego/red onion/pedro ximenez were great starters while the jamon croquette was a highlight - this was just served individually FYI so harder to split than the skewars which were served as two pieces each. You'll be able to eyeball them at the bar or ask to see the serving sizes.

We didn't sample a lot of the bread that was served after we ordered our tapas, but the four varieties were baked there and the couple small pieces I had were on point. We snacked on some shishito peppers, grilled and lightly salted/flavored, before squash blossoms were served -  stuffed with goat cheese and fried, these were excellent - we were lucky to get the last order. We rounded everything off with a veal tenderloin that was very tender and flavorful and a variety of early summer vegetables served with a dollop of soft sheep's cheese. All in all, a great meal and experience.

La Cuchara

3600 Clipper Mill Rd, Baltimore

Open 7 days/week, 5p-10p (11p Fri & Sat)

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Win: pintxos.  And an appropriately Spanish beverage list.

Lose: the "morcilla" resembles nothing you'll find on the Iberian peninsula: strangely absent the rice that normally stabilizes the forcemeat, and cooked apparently without any attempt to crisp up the casing; a rubbery bag of runny clots, simply awful.

Breathtaking: $64 for one whole sole.  Not surprised that a special would be priced a bit higher, and I wasn't really expecting to pay the 26 Euros that a good sole meuniere cost me in France last month, but at 2x the price of most of their other entrees, the sticker shock was huge.

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Breathtaking: $64 for one whole sole.  Not surprised that a special would be priced a bit higher, and I wasn't really expecting to pay the 26 Euros that a good sole meuniere cost me in France last month, but at 2x the price of most of their other entrees, the sticker shock was huge.

I'm not asking this as a finger wag; merely to judge the level of your shock: Did you ask how much it was? If not, that must have *hurt*. I think they're fully obligated to tell you before you order, by the way. Was it at least enough for two?

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Dave beat me to it.  Don, the waitress did say how much it was, and that it was meant for two.  No deception.

I agree with Dave: the pintxos were winning, as were the tapas.  A pinxto of green olives, pimento, and smoked mussel was exactly what I want out of a bar bite, intensely flavorful and appetite-stimulating, and I would have loved a whole bowl (rather than a demitasse) of the cold cucumber soup.

The lamb brochette (main course) was wrapped in caul fat, not something that I normally mind, except I found both the flavor and texture off-putting, so I scraped it off, to discover that it had taken all the lovely char from the wood grill and there was none on the meat itself, which was rather tough and not very flavorful.  Also, the eggplant was undercooked.  Mr. P's salmon with corn and tomatoes was perfectly fine, nothing to complain about, but was nothing more than a piece of salmon on corn and tomatoes, with nothing to tie it all together.  But it was a nicely cooked piece of fish.

If I lived nearby, and if I could drink, I would gladly sit at the massive bar and make an evening of nibbling on pintxos and tapas.

[edit to add] - ps: I didn't order the tapa (really an appetizer) of grilled peaches with arugula, because of the many, many times I've ordered dishes like that to find they're really huge piles of arugula (which I hate) with, like, three paper-thin slices of peach fanned out on top.  But this dish was, actually, several very large pieces of grilled peach with a few arugula leaves scattered atop.  Dave must've seen the remorse in my eyes, because he offered me a bite.  It was great.

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Dave beat me to it.  Don, the waitress did say how much it was, and that it was meant for two.  No deception.

I did not hear a price during the initial description, but if others did then it may have been my error...sorry.  She did ask "you know it's for two?" when I ordered it, which I did acknowledge, but it was an entirely normal-sized sole.

My hurried initial note probably counts as "damning with faint praise".  I thought the pintxos and tapas were very nicely done across the board.  The assortment of heirloom tomatoes they used were both gorgeous and delicious, and the jamon croquette was nicely executed, if a bit thin on ham and flavor compared to Jaleo's version.  If you stick to the small items and desserts, and maybe a tumbler of txakolina, it'd be a delightful evening.

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I did not hear a price during the initial description,

nor did you see my raised eyebrow. :lol:

One other thing to add, in the interest of fairness: the waitress took the morcilla off the bill.  No one asked her too, but she (or a manager) did anyway.  It was unnecessary but a considerate gesture, suggesting that someone there really cares about the customers.

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We enjoyed our 2 visits to this place(2 adults, 2 kids) as we live very close. Most of the dishes are really good maybe a couple misses. Im surprised not to see a bouillabaisse both times. When I asked the servers actually didn't know what a bouillabaisse is but hey nobody is perfect. My kids didn't like the smoked sweet corn ice cream but as a dad I finished the bowl. Dad duties :)

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