I knew Baltimore had arrived when we got our own Four Seasons Hotel. Not only that, but Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina was opening not one, not two, but three eateries in the hotel. Chef Mina, whose restaurants are mostly on the west coast, may not have been familiar to Baltimoreans at the time, but I knew of him and knew that his restaurants, Wit & Wisdom, Pabu, and coffee shop LAMill would be as posh as the hotel that housed them. (Note to husband: watching all those seasons of Top Chef was not a waste!)
Two of those restaurants are gone. Frankly, I felt Lamill was overpriced and balked at paying $$$ for a small tea latte made with a teaspoonful of rare tea leaves that had been pooped out by a yeti somewhere in the Himalayas. (If you’re into that sort of thing, there’s a LAMill in Los Angeles.) Pabu, on the other hand, quickly became one of my favorite restaurants. While the sushi and sashimi there were impeccable, my favorite dishes were chef/partner Ken Tominaga’s “happy spoons” and his okonomiyaki (an eggy cabbage pancake). The former comprises a tiny raw oyster, uni, salmon caviar, and a ponzu crème fraîche and is one of the most delicious bites ever. Of course that’s neither here nor there, as there is no longer a Pabu in Baltimore. But, like LAMill, the restaurant exists elsewhere; if you find yourself in San Francisco or Boston, do go.
Thankfully it doesn’t appear that Wit & Wisdom is going anywhere. It’s one of those places that is great for every occasion, from special to ordinary. It is a hotel restaurant, so they serve breakfast and lunch as well as dinner, plus they have a great bar/lounge area where you can grab a snack like blue crab deviled eggs or a burger and a signature cocktail. In the warmer months, they open “Wit on the Water,” the restaurant’s waterside patio, which has its own menu. This year, steamed blue crabs will be featured for the first time, along with crispy soft shell crabs and crab cakes. Pair them with sides of hush puppies, pickled cole slaw, and corn on the cob, and you’ll have the makings of a quintessential Maryland summer meal.
The chef at Wit & Wisdom is Zack Mills, a Maryland native with a love for local ingredients and a wealth of knowledge about Chesapeake Bay-area cuisine. However, Wit is not a Maryland-style seafood restaurant. Sure, local treats like blue crab, oysters, and rockfish appear on the menu, but so do Mina favorites like Michael’s Maine lobster pot pie and “Bourbon Steak” burger, and a selection of pasture-raised beef and bison steaks. My favorite menu items are Chef Mills’ creations, which change seasonally or as ingredients are available, for example, green garlic agnolotti with chorizo and clams, asparagus soup with Maine lobster, and goat cheese-filled crispy squash blossoms with tomato fennel puree and preserved lemon. Those are just examples from the regular menu. Where Mills really gets to shine is the special themed dinners served at the 12-seat counter in front of the open kitchen, aka Kitchen Table. Last year, a weekly series called “Curated” showcased items like heritage pork, truffles, and fall vegetables. There were also dinners featuring items from Pabu, Italian classics, and an all dessert menu by pastry chef Dyan Ng.
Chef Ng likes to incorporate savory elements into her desserts, so when her kitchen produces five courses of what we normally think of as the conclusion to a meal, it isn’t an unrelenting barrage of sugar. One of her most popular desserts is a play on lemon meringue. Instead of a sweet pie, Ng offers a delicately crunchy meringue that holds buttery bits of Marcona almonds, seared grapefruit, and delicate micro cilantro alongside a scoop of decadently rich ice cream made with…avocado. I’ve also enjoyed Ng’s bleu cheese ice cream, a chocolate risotto with shaved foie gras and black truffle oil, and a dish comprising white chocolate and olives, each of them crushing the idea that desserts need to be loaded with sugar and cake.
This year’s Kitchen Table series rotated through savory, dessert, and adult-beverage centered meals. The latter were led by Wit & Wisdom’s terrific sommelier, Julie Dalton, and were as much an educational experience as a boozy way to spend a Wednesday evening. Since there are only 12 seats for each of these meals, they tend to sell out fairly quickly, but it doesn’t hurt to call to see if a spot is still available.
Wit offers brunch on Sunday, and while it’s a bit spendy, if you do it right you won’t have to eat again until the next day. There are classic breakfast items: buttermilk pancakes; Belgian waffles; crepes; omelets. But also soups and salads, raw oysters, charcuterie, and more substantial items like fish and grilled meats. On one occasion there was a table featuring flavors of the Middle East, like lovely pink and juicy lamb chops, hummus, and an Egyptian bean stew called ful medames. And we can’t pass on Dyan Ng’s fabulous tiny croissants, cream puffs, and other pastries, which can work as dessert, or a side dish to a plate of steamed shrimp and scrambled eggs. (Who eats buffets logically?)
Guests at the Four Seasons are lucky ducks having all that available to them, but then so is all of Baltimore.
200 International Drive
Baltimore, MD 21202
Minxeats Baltimore food blogger and Co-author of the new book, Maryland’s Chesapeake: How the Bay and its Bounty Shaped a Cuisine, plus Food Lovers’ Guide to Baltimore, and Baltimore Chef’s Table.
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