If someone ever writes about the history of fine dining in Baltimore, certainly Cindy Wolf and her partner Tony Foreman will have an illustrious place in the evolution of Baltimore as a fine-dining destination. Wolf has been working the stoves at Charleston for years now, and the restaurant seems to go from strength to strength. The restaurant is still the reference point from which just about any other restaurant in Baltimore has to compare itself.
I hadn't been there in some time, as I'm not going into downtown Baltimore as much as I used to, but it was good to get back. The meal was exquisite - ranging from Wolf's terrific tuna tartare to her legendary, cornmeal-crusted, deep-fried oysters. In addition, we had two killer dishes - the grilled Norwegian salmon in a wonderful reduced brown butter sauce, plus a dish I rarely order, the tenderloin of beef, which was, again, superb. Service is always impeccable at Charleston and everything about the evening was world-class. If this restaurant were in France, it would clearly merit two stars in the Michelin guide.
As for the wines, the 2009 Pape Clement Blanc, which I've scored as high as 100 at times, seemed somewhat subdued and closed, and may be going through a mid-adolescent stage of development. Nevertheless, with coaxing, much of the honey and mandarin orange notes started to emerge, but then we moved on to three brilliant red wines, which were all double-decanted at home several hours prior to going to the restaurant. All three had sediment, with the highest amount of sediment in the Gruaud Larose. The 1990 Montrose is a beauty, but I'm starting to think that at age 25, the 1989 is starting to eclipse it. The 1982 Lafleur, which can be perfect at times, was beautifully civilized, not as exotic as some bottles can be, but wonderfully dense and rich, with notes of coffee, kirsch and mulberry, full-bodied and still slightly structured and playing it closer to the vest than most bottles I've had. The 1982 Gruaud Larose is notable simply because it is still not at its plateau of maturity! This wine, at 33, ranks as one of the all-time greatest Gruaud Laroses ever made - right up there with the 1961 and 1945. The wine is dense purple/garnet, offering notes of beef blood, forest floor, oodles of blackcurrants and blackberry, in an almost primordial, concentrated, dense style. This is an amazing wine, which could be a 50- to 100-year wine when all is said and done.
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Petit Louis Bistro
A lookalike, authentic French bistro, Petit Louis in Baltimore's Roland Park is the creation of restauranteurs par excellence Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman. You feel like you’ve walked into a bistro on the Left Bank of Paris when you enter Petit Louis. The food is classic bistro, and they do it well. All of the courses we had were flavorful, sometimes a trifle rustic, but delicious in their intensity. This was good comfort food prepared extremely well. The wines started with one of the major surprises for me over the last year, the 2006 sparking wine from Tony Soter in Oregon. I had this several times while I was out visiting Oregon, and I had always been impressed, but this is a 10-year-old sparking Rosé that is just sensational, and I’m talking world class—it’s that good. Something this good from France would cost at least two to three times as much, so kudos to Tony Soter. The 1995 Billaud-Simon Chablis Mont de Milieu was oxidized and undrinkable. The 1996 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Clos St. Urbain Rangen de Thann was sweet, and although it went well with the foie gras, it was just a little too unctuous and sweet a wine...