Encantada boasts a focus on vegetables with an eclectic new American menu
By By Anna Walsh
Aug 26, 2015 at 3:00 AM
When we first walked into Encantada (800 Key Highway,  752-1000, encantadabaltimore.com), we thought we were the only guests there—all of the tables in the dining room were empty, and the seats at the bar, behind which a bartender idled, were also all empty, even though it was dinnertime on a Friday night. It seemed borderline absurd when the host asked us in complete seriousness if we had made a reservation. When he took us to a table on the restaurant's balcony, though, we realized with relief that the outside tables were almost entirely full of customers enjoying the nice weather and the view of the massive whirligig outside the American Visionary Arts Museum, so at least we weren't the only ones there.
Still, we couldn't help thinking throughout our meal that the restaurant deserved to be busier. That's not to say that all of its dishes were runaway hits, or that there wasn't room for improvement, but it was a pleasant-enough experience that we would expect more diners to take advantage of.
Encantada is on just this side of twee, what with the bright colors, mismatched patterned fabrics on all the seat cushions, eclectic furniture collection, and staff's uniform of button-downs and suspenders, but the whimsical borderline-kitsch aesthetic is about what you would expect for a restaurant located on the third floor of AVAM. The restaurant is vegetable-focused new American cuisine, though devoted carnivores can rest assured that there are still several meat dishes on the menu. Our server told us that the menu was built around small plates meant for sharing, but don't be fooled into thinking they're tapas-size dishes—these are pretty decent servings for so-called small plates, so seven dishes was just enough for our party of five, making Encantada better for a larger group than, say, a couple's dinner if you're looking to sample more than one dish.
The menu takes a bit of a scattered approach to American cuisine, with dishes that seemed to draw inspiration from bar food and fine dining alike. The turnips ($8), for instance, were a vegan take on the standard paprika-dusted deviled eggs you might find at a family barbecue. The crunchy vegetable stood in for the cooked egg white, and we marveled over the light, vegan facsimile of a whipped yolk. The cauliflower ($10), which our server recommended as one of her favorite dishes, came "Nashville style," with bite-size pieces of the vegetable coated in a hot sauce with a vegan ranch dressing drizzled lightly on top. The snack was a big hit at our table—it reminded us of buffalo chicken bites you might find at a bar, except much lighter and less greasy than most hot-sauce-drenched snacks.
The meat dishes that we tried were far more on the high-brow end of the American cuisine spectrum. The duck ($19) featured two slices of cured breast elegantly plated with dollops of green pea sauce, a long smear of dark blackberry sauce, and a tossing of fresh peas and blackberries, providing a balanced sweet-and-savory accompaniment to the tender breast meat and its delectably crispy exterior. We were less thrilled with the Malepeque oyster crudo ($14), which paired apple and lime flavors and pickled mustard seeds with the mollusks, with the sweet-ish flavors overriding any of the flavors from the oysters themselves.
The rest of the dishes that we tried occupied some space between the low-brow of the vegan bar snacks and the high-brow meat dishes. The lacinato kale ($9) salad was perfectly serviceable and fresh-tasting, though not remarkable. The portabello ($12) featured long, thin slices of the mushroom accompanied by pine nuts, white miso, and a chimichurri sauce, making for a pleasantly savory dish. We were surprisingly disappointed by the gnocchi ($16): The mushroom bolognese sauce was merely standard, while the ricotta gnocchi were dense and tough. As gnocchi fans, we kept spooning more of it onto our plate, hoping that we would grow to like it, but the poor texture of the pasta continued to disappoint.
Accompanying the cuisine is a cocktail program with a similar focus on produce, to great effect. We were particularly impressed by the Instagram-ready Cheshire Cat ($13), with a cabbage-based deep purple "magic velvet blue ice" square that slowly changed the color of the cocktail as it dissolved. With cucumber-lemongrass syrup, mint, and lime, it was an unusually savory cocktail, but we found it refreshing to drink. We also eyed enviously the bright pink, bottled cocktail that one of our friends ordered. When we come back, we'll probably settle in at one of those brightly upholstered seats at the bar and spend our evening chatting with the friendly, likable bartender, who was more than happy to chat with us on our first visit, and ordering the cauliflower and "deviled eggs"—those dishes in particular are the ones we think about ordering again and again. •