The year isn't even a week old, but in case you're ready to give up any food resolutions you vowed while still in the afterglow of New Year's Eve, there's no better place than Canyon Southwest Cafe.
On the other hand, if you're still headachy from celebrating, save this noisy spot for another time. The chances of having a quiet meal here are slim to none. And that's the one drawback to this otherwise wonderful restaurant.
Hopefully you can muster what it takes to overlook the unsettling noise level -- particularly the maddening techno beat that's a constant in the background -- as well as the experience of intimacy with strangers as you work your way through the packed bar to get to a table. Try for a booth swathed in soft sheers in this tastefully outfitted spot. (It's slightly more sound-damping than tables on the front lines of the bar scene.)
Now you're ready for a lineup of four-star food as defined by one of the city's most underrated chefs, Chris Wilber. You'll dig a little deeper in your pocket for the privilege, but eating his food is like having someone put two warm arms around you for the best hug you ever had.
The embrace starts with pan-sauteed escargots (and plenty of them) tossed with grilled cremini mushrooms in dreamy California port sauce centered with a red chili tamale cake ($8.50), or grilled chicken quesadilla with jalapeno jack cheese, roasted corn and cilantro pesto with black bean-mango salsa ($9.50). Perfection! Ditto the cornmeal-crusted poblano, oozing with creamy goat cheese matched with a New Mexican red chili sauce ($9.50). Which is not to say the Canyon salad ($6.95) is any slouch either. I love the crunch of the pumpkin seeds, the hit of reggiano and the lime roasted-garlic vinaigrette that plays beautifully against a backdrop of organic baby greens and tomatoes.
If nothing I've mentioned piques your interest, dig into other excellent options: Indonesian spiced ostrich skewers with Scotch bonnet-blueberry cream ($14); tequila and jalapeno smoked salmon tostada ($12) or jumbo lump crab meat, guacamole and black bean stack with chipotle crema and mango paint ($13).
I can't overstate the luscious qualities of Wilber's way with sea bass ($28), crusted in jalapeno-spiked Japanese bread crumbs on a plate painting of luscious orange sauce, it magically glides across your palate. Or his exquisite hunks of pork tenderloin ($21), rubbed with poblano pesto and mustard, set on a delicious pond of roasted-garlic sauce, sided with elegantly rich white truffle mash and grilled asparagus.
Relish his talents further with each fabulous morsel of beef tenderloin tip burrito ($18) trimmed in red chili sauce, poblano, red peppers, mushrooms, onions and mozzarella, or imagine the combination of diced shrimp and cremini mushrooms blended with a gorgeous jalapeno cream sauce intensified by a New Mexican red chili pico de gallo ($23), all of which clings perfectly to wavy al dente rigatoni.
If your willpower isn't already lying in ruins, Wilber's sweet finales will cap off any weakening resolve. White chocolate bread pudding with Chambord berry stir fry ($9) will impart the feeling of having eaten a legal aphrodisiac. Blueberry banana cheesecake ($9) is yet another present on a plate with its heavenly texture and partnership with caramelized bananas, and so is warm chocolate pecan brownie pie ($7) -- every morsel filled with cocoa goodness that melts on the tongue like velvet.
If you want one of those "there's no one in the place except you and me" spots, search elsewhere. But, if you want stunning food that will amaze and delight you, look no further than this grand Canyon.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun