Thursday, March 20, 2008

Review: Woodberry Kitchen

Matt has been working really hard for his committee meeting (which was yesterday), so I decided that I’d treat him to a nice dinner at Woodberry Kitchen, about which I have heard many great things. Their mission statement (from their website): Woodberry Kitchen features the seasonal best from local growers and emphasizes organic meats and sustainable agriculture. Our goal is to nourish and delight our guests with cooking grounded in the traditions and ingredients of the Chesapeake region.

All photos from Woodberry Kitchen website
The restaurant itself is stunning. It is situated in an old foundry, and the soaring ceilings, exposed brick, wood, and metalwork give it a rustic yet wholly modern feel.

We were seated upstairs, which we liked, as it made us feel a little secluded from the noise and hubbub of the downstairs area. Right off the bat, the service was great. A waitress brought us our menus, the wine list, and the specials menu, and shortly thereafter, we were brought a carafe of water. Our waitress showed up a little while after that to take our order (we weren’t ready, so she came back again shortly thereafter). I should point out that it was COLD upstairs. I wish I had worn longer sleeves but alas I hadn't. (A glass of wine warmed me right up.)
We decided to start with the fried hominy with chile mayo, the Eastern Shore popcorn, and the flatbread with chevre, potatoes, and capers (on the specials menu). The hominy was still warm and came on a little plate with large toothpicks with which we could spear them and dip them into the mayo. I’m a huge fan of mayonnaise as a dip and I like corn, so I really liked this, but I recognize that it wasn’t all that amazing in the grand scheme of things. The Eastern Shore popcorn was a dud. It tasted like old movie theatre popcorn and the only thing that separated it from that was the lack of the fake yellow color. The popcorn was cold, not in the slightest bit crunchy or light, and there was too much butter and salt on it. Thankfully I only spent $1 on this. The flatbread, on the other hand, was wonderful. It was basically a small pizza bianca that was topped with small mounds of mild Chevre (goat cheese), chunks of roasted purple potatoes, capers, and a drizzle of olive oil. The crust was the perfect thickness (not too thick) and was perfectly chewy and crisp, and the toppings worked together wonderfully.
For our entrees, Matt ordered the Cider-Brined Pork Chop - Braised, with greens, tomatoes, new potatoes and I ordered the Autumn Vegetables - Cheddar dumplings, sage, MD white wine, butter.
Matt found his dish unremarkable. While the meat was good, he said there was no discernible cider flavor and that the braise competed with the meat. (I dipped my fork into the sauce on his plate – gasp! – and it was very earthy and mushroomy tasting; it was slightly acidic but barely so.)
I was very disappointed with my entrée. I was presented with a plate of shredded carrots, slices of celery and red onion, chunks of butternut squash, a few slices of Granny Smith apples, and a good amount of French gnocchi-looking dumplings swimming in an orange sauce. This was NOT what I was expecting. Where were the autumn vegetables? The only autumn vegetables I could discern were the squash and the apples (not even a vegetable). The rest of the stuff – carrots, onion, celery – was just filler. The carrots were also very annoying to eat because they couldn’t be speared and so I had to scoop of forkfuls of them, which resulted in the sauce dripping all over the place. The dumplings were subpar. They were very soft, but not in a good way, more like in a doughy way. Furthermore, they were completely bland – no cheddar cheese, no sage flavor (even though I could see specks of sage in it), and no salt. The sauce was fine, but, again, not what I expected. It seemed to be a thin tomato sauce that was cooked down with wine, butter, and salt, and it didn’t really seem to go with the other components of the dish. The dish was weak and, even though I ate most of it (I was hungry!), I was very disappointed by it. Of course, had I taken the time to read Elizabeth Large's review in the Sun from two months ago, I would have known to steer clear of this dish. (Her thoughts on it: "Autumn vegetables with delicate little cheese dumplings should be a knockout, and the fingernail-size dumplings are. But the autumn vegetables include apple slices, carrots and celery; the kitchen could do better.")
I had read rave reviews of their ice creams, so we opted to get those instead of one of their plated desserts (none of which appealed to me – among our options were apples with toffee, a coffee crème brulee, and a flourless chocolate cake). The ice cream flavors for the night were apple pie, café au lait, vanilla, toffee, and an Earl Grey tea and pear sorbet. We went with the apple pie ice cream and the Earl Grey tea-pear sorbet. The ice cream was served WAY too cold, so we let it sit for a few minutes while we devoured the sorbet. The sorbet was perfect – the Earl Grey tea and pear complemented each other perfectly and both flavors were very present. It was clear that they used a good amount of pear puree in the sorbet, as the grittiness of the pears came through every now and then (and not in a bad way). The texture of the sorbet was perfect – it was very fine and smooth and not at all icy, as many sorbets tend to be. We attacked the ice cream after it had warned up a bit. Its texture wasn’t as good as the sorbet’s – it was in fact a little bit icy. However, the mildness and complexity of its flavor more than made up for it. The ice cream base was vanilla (lots of specks of vanilla bean throughout) and was barely sweet – just the way I like it. The ice cream was copiously studded with chunks of a streusel-like substance as well as with chunks of cinnamon-laced cooked apples. The combination was perfect.
Although I did enjoy our experience (courtesy of the ambience and excellent service), the food was, on the whole, mediocre, and not worth the high price tag that accompanied it. I wanted to fall in love with Woodberry Kitchen, and I am sad to report that I did not.
Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore


K8teebug said...

I have to say that now I'm glad I skipped the popcorn. If you decide to go back for some sorbet, please tell Matt to get the burger b/c it really is amazing.

Corey said...

I've heard good things about the burger too!

The ladyfriend and I went to Woodberry for dinner on Tuesday, and were quite impressed. We've stopped there for desert a couple times (she lives in the condos across the street) so were looking forward to actually having dinner there. She had the pork, which was quite fatty but had good flavor. I started out with a roasted pear for a salad. I am biased, as I LOVE pears; I was very pleased with it. I went with the special of the night, a halibut with a parsnip puree, some other garlic sauce I can't quite remember, and a bit of truffle oil. It was excellent - perfectly cooked, and not overseasoned.

We sat downstairs, and while the place is beautiful, it is quite loud. For desert we had the chocolate tart (i think) with the burnt orange ice cream. It was a tasty combo. The meal was pricy, but we enjoyed it.

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