1. The Fork and Wrench (2322 Boston St.,  759-9360, theforkandwrench.com) The huge corner rowhouse on Boston Street that was once the Good Love, and more recently Pur Lounge, took a long time for the owners of F&W to finally get right, but get it right they did. It's sort of eclectic squared: several individual, themed dining areas (including a beautiful indoor courtyard), with great attention paid to the details of each, but all sort of claiming industrial age-y/steampunk roots, if that's an actual thing. The menu is similarly composed, with old school rustic heartiness interspersed with modern technique and flair, encompassing a staggering list of ingredients that perhaps belie a huge underground storage facility. Chef Sajin Renae, however, makes sense of all of it-sweet, delicious sense. (Henry Hong)
2. Heavy Seas Alehouse (1300 Bank St.,  522-0850, heavyseasaleshouse.com) If you think the draw of the Heavy Seas Alehouse is all your Heavy Seas favorites (and then some) on tap, you'd not be wrong. But it would be a shame to overlook Chef Matt Seeber's menu, chock-full of beer-inspired-or beer-filled-items like spicy beer nuts with Heavy Seas Märzen syrup or sausage sliders mixed with Small Craft Warning Uber Pils. Loose Cannon onion rings are a must. When Harbor East is just too packed, take a short drive west to Central and Bank. (Mary Zajac)
3. Fleet Street Kitchen (1012 Fleet St.,  244-5830, fleetstreetkitchen.com) The latest from the Bagby Restaurant Group, this Harbor East gem has arts-and-crafts decor and a menu of fresh and seasonal ingredients that highlight the kitchen's classical credentials. While service (and prices) may relegate the place to a "special occasion" category, FSK's bar food, including a burger with three cuts of beef and tomato jam, make it worthy of a weeknight excursion. (Martha Thomas)
4. Food Market (1017 W. 36th St.,  366-0606, thefoodmarketbaltimore.com) Hampden's latest hot spot deservedly packs 'em in for fresh takes on American classics. Chili is made with kobe beef; potato skins sport a blanket of duck confit. Spaghetti's meatball is crab, but the "meatabally" is made from lamb. The noise levels may have come down a decibel with the addition of acoustic tiles, but the enthusiasm hasn't dampened. (MZ)
5. Birroteca (1520 Clipper Mill Road,  708-1934) The old stone mill building along the Jones Falls has enjoyed a happy buzz since it opened in October. The 24 taps of craft beer, Italian wines, and artisanal cocktails complement a grazing menu, featuring such dishes as duck confit pizza, calamari grilled on a plank, and wild boar pappardelle as well as nightly specials meant to be shared, like pork shank or spaghetti and meatballs. Call ahead on weekends or be prepared to wait. (MT)
6. Waterfront Kitchen (1417 Thames St.,  681-5310, waterfrontkitchen.com) The farm-to-table movement has firmly established itself in the Baltimore restaurant scene, and Waterfront Kitchen in Fells Point is sourcing local but also teaching others how to grow their own. Their partnership with Living Classrooms Foundation benefits children as well as adults while providing food that is thoughtful and delicious. Try the house-made charcuterie: It's some of the best in the city. (John Houser III)
7. Verde (641 S. Montford Ave.,  522-1000, verdepizza.com) Three restaurants in 20 years doesn't quite qualify as a "revolving door," but something about this Highlandtown corner spot just never felt quite right-until now. In this Year of Pizza, and in pizza-rich East Baltimore no less, Verde separates itself with straight-ahead, rustica Italian, non-pizza offerings, a sharp bistro-like interior (with plans to expand upstairs), and terrific service. As for the pies, of course you'll find fresh, fun, but not-too-out-there toppings, but the dough tells the tale, and Verde's is a gratifying balance of crisp, crunch, and chew, with medium salinity and excellent distribution of bubbles and smoky browned spots. (HH)
8. Pabu Izakaya (200 International Drive,  223-1460, pabuizakaya.com) Pabu manages to simultaneously re-energize two long-suffering genres in the Baltimore dining landscape: the hotel restaurant, whose limelight has faded since the days of Citronelle and Hampton's; and authentic Japanese food, which has simply been missing since perhaps the '90s. The high-end Four Seasons eatery hits the basic drinking/food categories ("izakaya" basically means pub) of sushi, robata (grilled stuff), and noodles, and features an impressive sake list (complete with a sake sommelier) as well as happy-hour specials. What saves Japanese food fanatics an out-of-state drive is a no-holds-barred commitment to fresh ingredients (some flown in from Japan) paired with precise and beautiful execution. (HH)
9. Ouzo Bay (1000 Lancaster St.,  708-5818, ouzobay.com) The latest restaurant on the block in Harbor East is also one of the city's most impressive. From its beautiful modern interior and knowledgeable service to its incredibly fresh seafood and simple yet flavorful Mediterranean food, Ouzo Bay has potential to be the place where everyone will want to go for special occasions. It is on the pricier side, but believe us when we say it's worth it. (JH)
10. Hersh's Pizza and Drinks (1843-45 Light St.,  438-4948, hershspizza.com) Is it worth a drive to the very end of Light Street for pizza? Unequivocally yes. Still, it's the throwback cocktails, humble treats like homemade gnocchi, prosciutto balls, and roasted Brussels sprouts, and a gentler kind of hipster service that make us return to Josh and Stephanie Hershkovitz's eponymous restaurant. Family-friendly indeed. (MZ)
2012 Top Twelve Wines
By Tony Foreman
I always encourage
people to buy wines by the case (to get the discounts!) and in an eight-three-one format: Eight to consume any time, without a second thought, because they are delicious and a great purchase. Three to be more special, to make it a nicer day or evening, and maybe to age a bit. One is really special, perhaps collectible-a bottle worth organizing an evening around perhaps in a few years, as these should be age-worthy wines.
Moscato d'Asti, Lodali
(Piedmont) 2011, $13. Peachy, fizzy, and charmingly sweet and light. Wine for good pancakes and your Aunt Mildred too.
Falanghina del Sannio, Cantina del Taburno
(Campania) 2011, $16. Southern Italian white that is plump and fresh. No oak.
(Sonoma) 2010, $13. Rich and buttery on a budget.
Gruner Veltliner Federspiel, Lagler "Burgberg"
(Wachau) 2011, $19. Fine, detailed, and long. First-class for sushi-and-wine geeks.
Vin de Pays, Domaine Charvin
(Southern Rhône Valley) 2010, $13. Medium body and juicy Grenache-driven fruit from a top Châteauneuf-du-Pape specialist.
Chinon, Domaine Gouron
(Loire Valley) 2010, $16. Sleek and elegant. Aromatic Cabernet Franc.
Marsannay, Louis Latour
(Burgundy) 2009, $19. Gutsy, old school Pinot Noir from a great vintage in this village north of Gevrey Chambertin.
Carinena Crianza, Campos de Luz
(Spain) 2008, $10. Jammy cherries and good balance. Amazing for the price.
Chateau de Sales
(Pomerol) 2008, $38. Beautiful example of this excellent vintage in perhaps the rarest of geeky Bordeaux appellations. Almost entirely Merlot, this is rich, earthy, balanced, and age-worthy. Also tasty as hell right now!
Rioja Reserva, Cune "Imperial"
(Spain) 2004, $45. Marvelous and age-worthy elegant Rioja. Handles rich fish, meat, and strong seasonings equally well. Requires decanting for an hour to show best.
Chardonnay, Hamilton Russell Vineyards
(Hemel-En-Aarde Valley) 2011, $33. Super-expressive and lavish, textured Chardonnay in a new-world style that outperforms its price.
Barolo, Paolo Scavino "Cannubi"
(Castiglione Falletto) 2007, $107. The wine of the vintage in this storied region. Detailed, stunningly beautiful, and just a baby. This wine is not just worth the journey, it IS the journey.
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Ten Twelve Wines