Since Cindy Wolf and her husband/wine guy/occasional maitre d', Tony Foreman, opened Charleston it has been Baltimore's finest restaurant for impeccable service, haute cuisine, and the best wine list in the region. They recently closed for renovations and to revamp the menu. Dining there with my wife the first week it re-opened was not so much a revelation as a confirmation that this is without a doubt the finest restaurant in Baltimore, and we are fortunate to be able to experience the cooking of a genius chef who only gets better and better. Both my wife and I have been lucky enough to enjoy more great dining experiences than anyone is entitled to, but this was by far the finest meal I have ever had in Baltimore. As I told Chef Cindy and Tony Foreman at the conclusion of the meal, it was better than the last few Michelin three-star dining experiences I have had in Paris. The evening was filled with one brilliant dish after another. Cindy Wolf has little competition when it comes to extraordinary, hand-crafted from scratch soups and sauces. Her soups are to die for, whether it's her corn, pea, or artichoke cream soup. One of my favorites is her shellfish bisque which I frequently order. Following the soup was a fabulous salmon tartare that could easily have been served at one of the finest sushi restaurants in Tokyo, and a remarkable gazpacho with perfectly cooked Maine lobster and the wonderfully intense summer flavor of great heirloom tomatoes. Although I still believe I make the finest crabcakes in Maryland, Chef Wolf's show more refinement and delicacy than my whoppers, which are more decadent, but not as sophisticated. We finished with an extraordinary confit of pork that was a perfect marriage with Châteauneuf du Pape.

The service is always brilliant at Charleston as they run as tight a ship as possible, and of course, the wine list is fabulous. As for the wines, the just released 1995 Dom Pérignon Rosé is still buttoned down and tight, but it exhibits great potential. I suspect it will be as good as some of this house's great classics of the past, but it needs another year or so of bottle age. It should last for two decades. The 1990 Rayas Châteauneuf du Pape can be variable from regular-sized bottles, but this was a brilliant example boasting a medium ruby color as well as an extraordinary perfume of crushed raspberries, cherries, flowers, and licorice. It is wonderfully voluptuous, but fully mature and should probably be drunk up before it begins its slow decline. On the other hand, the 2000 Vieille Julienne Châteauneuf du Pape Reserve still has most of its life ahead of it. One of the most magnificent young Châteauneuf du Papes I ever tasted (and probably as good as the 1990 Rayas was in its peak years of 1995-2003), it is pure kirsch liqueur with hints of black truffles, flowers, and black fruits. It is a tour de force in winemaking, and no shy wine with 15% alcohol (about a degree less than the Rayas).

The menu has been redone, the prices still seem fairly modest (a good 30-40% below comparable restaurants in New York or Washington, DC), and the wine list is filled with unbelievable treasures, including some underpriced gems. Bravo to Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman!

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