Oregon Grille

The Oregon Grille, by far the finest restaurant in the Baltimore suburbs, is basically a steak and lobster house. While Chef Mark Henry is capable of preparing more creative dishes, this is what the locals demand and he delivers the goods. One of his newest creations is a tasty eggplant and lump crab Napoleon that requires a flavorful dry white wine, such as the Sine Qua Non 2001 Albino, a gloriously perfumed, beautifully textured, stunningly proportioned effort. It can be drunk now and over the next several years. That wine also worked well with Mark Henry's soft shelled crabs, which to me are the finest preparation of this dish I have ever tasted. Chef Henry is a fanatic about the quality of the soft shells. If you are born and raised in Maryland, that's something we take seriously. One of the local jokes is that anyone born in Maryland arrives with a crab in their hand. The Oregon Grille's crabs never possess leathery shells (as they will if they have been out of the water too long) as Henry has contracts with Eastern Shore crabbers who deliver their catch to the restaurant every morning wrapped in seaweed. They are utilized the same day, so they have never been out of water more than twelve hours. He also prepares a beurre-blanc with his sauteed soft shell crabs with a touch of coarse mustard seed as well as chopped green onions, which adds both texture and spice to the dish.

There are no better steaks to be found in the Baltimore region than the Oregon Grille's. Their purveyor is a meat company in Philadelphia called Wells. The aged beef flavor of the meat is superb. I'm not really a prime rib aficionado, but I must say the Oregon Grille's is so delicious and tender that even I adore this dish. With that we had a series of Châteauneuf du Papes. The 1990 Domaine de Marcoux Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes can be a perfect wine, or one that is maderized. I have had incredible discrepancies from bottles in my cellar, ranging from the sublime to the undrinkable. Since it was very difficult to purchase more than two or three bottles from the same source, I bought this wine from five different merchants. I suspect some of them must have hit some heat along the way. This particular bottle was in pristine condition. It may have been a 100-point wine except for the fact that it was drunk alongside a wine that nearly blew the roof off the restaurant, the 1990 Les Cailloux Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Centenaire. An amazingly complex, velvety-textured, full throttle red, it would make even the hardest core grand cru Burgundy lover go bonkers. It was interesting to compare these two gorgeous 1990s with the 1989 Les Cailloux Châteauneuf du Pape Cuvée Centenaire, a wine that seems to be far younger than its age. This vintage has been perplexing to follow. A hot, dry year produced concentrated wines possessing an abundance of tannin. It is those tough tannins that still seem to plague (if that's the correct word) the 1989 Châteauneuf du Papes. They remain promising, with deep colors, no degradation of fruit, and absolutely no hint of oxidation. They are big, rich, concentrated, and oh, so firmly tannic ... the southern Rhône versions of Bordeaux's 1986 northern Médocs. They are to be admired, but the question remains ... will these wines ever hit their peak, and if so, when? In any event, it was a marvelous evening.

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