Sunday, January 12, 2014

Getting It Right

Oprah Winfrey famously said: “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right”.  I was all for that on December 31st as I prepared for a fancy evening out with my dearest Baltimore friends, Jesse, Jan and Robert, along with Jan and Robert’s college-age grandson, Michael.   Jan had suggested that we do something festive which did not involve “cooking a meal”.  That was fine with me.  I had cooked my little heart out at Christmas and was ready for a break.  I suggested a restaurant downtown, on or near Baltimore’s beautiful inner harbor, where we might be able to see the annual fireworks show put on by the City at midnight -- without the attendant crowds.  A quick look at the major restaurant-reservation websites like revealed that every restaurant with a view was already booked.  Had we waited too long?

Jesse, a talented designer of multi-purpose buffet tables for the hospitality industry, swung into action.  He called a number of restaurants to see if they really were booked.  They were.  Then he dialed the number of his good friend and fellow Grateful Dead fan, Jenny McCollough, a server at the fabulous Waterfront Kitchen, a Jerry Pelligrino establishment at which we enjoyed a memorable meal in September. Jenny was amazed at our fortuitous timing.  A table, the best in the house, had just opened up for the late seating, a seating virtually guaranteed to have us finishing our meal scarcely before the first starburst exploded over the harbor.  Jesse quickly booked a reservation for five.

These fancy false eyelashes were
scattered with glittering crystals
I dressed for the evening with excitement.  A sensuous, cold-shouldered knit top from Boston Proper with sexy fringe dangling from a crocheted yoke seemed to pair perfectly with vintage dress slacks by Cachet, the latter adorned with floor-length Chiffon panels floating front and back, which I purchased in a northern California boutique in the late 1970s.  I wanted that solid drape of black to be a sophisticated backdrop for the stunning necklace and earrings Robert and Jan gave me for Christmas from their jewelry store, Fire & Ice.  Twisted coils of woven Italian sterling and brass in hues of pale gold, rose gold, and silver shaped into delicate wire-mesh tubes were filled with sparkling crystals from the Czech Republic to form an ensemble that is part of the Radiance of Hope collection from Maya Caroleena, a company which dedicates 30% of its wholesale ROH proceeds to charities which specialize in helping sick children around the world, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and the Zabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. I could hardly wait to give such exquisite pieces an evening in the spotlight.

Sparkling Czech crystals
are encased in coils of
delicate wire mesh
We assembled at Robert and Jan’s lovely home in Baltimore at 8:00 p.m.  A sparkling shiraz was poured, the first time I’ve ever tasted “red champagne” (not truly a champagne but every bit as tasty). The effervescent grape was heavenly.  At the Waterfront Kitchen, our restaurant host, Henry Hong, a friend of Jesse’s from his competitive billiard league days years ago and a talented food writer and radio personality, led us to a large round table with cushy banquette seating which provided a view to the pier and the water beyond while also allowing us full scope of the expansive dining room filled with well-dressed patrons. It really was the best table in the house!

A sparkling shiraz was a perfect
way to start the evening
We were treated to five courses during the price-fixe meal, beginning with three kinds of caviar on saffron blini with crème fraiche: tiny pancakes, each no more than an inch in diameter, became delicate pillows on which to display the colorful roe.  For my second course I chose rillons, crisp yet meltingly tender cubes of caramelized pork belly, accompanied by apple butter and bleu cheese.  I was in heaven as the unctious flavors lingered on my tongue. My third course was grilled beef tenderloin, dauphinoise potatoes and crispy mushrooms scented with rosemary jus, a superb combination.  My fourth course consisted of a spinach salad with dried figs, more bleu cheese and a port wine vinaigrette.  At this point I was very glad my fancy slacks had an elastic waistband.

Robert and Jan's irreverent
cocktail napkins were a riot
As we finished the last bites of that course, helped along by lovely wines suggested by Jenny, we realized that it was only a few minutes before midnight.  Jenny brought us hats and noisemakers and golden-hued champagne on the house.  We bundled up in our heavy outerwear, grabbed our bubbling libations and headed out the restaurant’s back door, where we found ourselves right at the water’s edge, just like last summer. This time, with the temperature hovering below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, we were glad for warm coats and winter gloves.

Jan wore a splendid brocade coat over
a black top with a plunging neckline
The fireworks were amazing. Since the City of Baltimore traditionally sets off its fireworks from a barge in the water, the “bombs bursting in air” were literally right over our heads.  Except for a couple dozen other restaurant patrons, we had the pier to ourselves.  For that reason alone, I would likely make the Waterfront Kitchen my destination of choice for all future New Year’s eves even if Chef Pelligrino’s food wasn’t so delicious. As it was, I felt as if I had stumbled upon a fabulous secret way to ring in every future cycle of the earth around the sun.

Dinner at the Waterfront Kitchen
was absolutely wonderful
But that wasn’t all.  Once the last of $116,000 worth of fireworks had fizzled out, we returned to the toasty warmth of the restaurant to enjoy dessert.  All that energy expended keeping warm outside during the pyrotechnic display had magically reignited our appetites.  For this final course, I chose a slice of salted dark chocolate fudge with orange-basil semifreddo garnished with Gran Marnier custard and candied citrus zest.  It was a sublime ending to a perfect year-end celebration and an ideal way to ring in 2014.
Happy New Year,


“…[L]ast year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. …[T]o make an end is to make a beginning” ~ T. S. Eliot

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