Fells Point may well be overrun by migrating flocks of foodies, eager to savor Duck Duck Goose.
This newcomer is the brainchild of chef Ashish Alfred, who opened a French brasserie of the same name a couple years ago in Bethesda. He grew up in that area before heading to New York for training at the International Culinary Center and further honing at Manhattan eateries. Alfred moved to Baltimore this year to immerse himself in the community as well as the process of creating the second Duck Duck Goose.
Occupying a spot previously home to the 8 Ball Bar & Grill, the restaurant seems ready-made for major trendy status. The basic vibe is at once laid-back and up-market. The layout offers an intimate, L-shaped dining room with bistro tables, as well as a sizable bar and sofa-and-chair nook. (There’s sidewalk seating, too.)
The night we visited, we got the sense everyone there knew they were in on something different, something cool. The young, ultra-slim-fit male staffers looked like extras in a Gus Van Sant movie — assorted piercings and tattoos, strategically ripped jeans, edgy coifs. Patrons skewed young and hip (we did our part to lift the median age, if not the hip-ness, a tad).
I loved that the main dining area, which includes a view into the garde manger station, had decent distance between tables, rather than the usual tight packing. I wouldn’t have minded some sound baffling; the space got thunderous as it filled up. But that proved a minor matter given the steady flow of culinary delights.
Those delights started simply with decent French bread served on a raised cake plate containing a visually vibrant, invigorating beet-and-goat cheese smear. That Duck Duck Goose cares as much about looks as content was underlined by our vegetable starters.
Charred broccolini matched elegance of presentation with exquisitely balanced flavoring from lemon curd and almond puree. And a gorgeous grilled cauliflower steak sat on a vivid cauliflower puree and alongside florets of tangy pickled cauliflower.
Then came the risotto. English peas provided wonderful flavor and a late-morning-countryside color to the cheesy-creamy, perfectly al dente rice, making for a dish of uncommon refinement. I’d even call it eloquent; it sure did speak to me. And that was before I tasted the goodies sprinkled on top — bits of goat cheese and panko crumbles sauteed in duck fat.
The list of items to share included another admirable case of Italian influence (Duck Duck Goose is not strictly French, but more European Union), offering a just-right amount of hearty lamb Bolognese sauce meshed with delicate strands of spaghettini. A perfect proportion.
As for the menu’s main plates, the honey-roasted duck breast was lean and tender, the fat rendered to leave the skin ideally crispy. And even the beet-adverse member of our party enjoyed the beet puree and glazed beets that provided color and an additional layer of flavor.
The halibut tightly tucked inside a thin layer of stellar puff pastry may have been cooked a few seconds too long, but still soared. The freshness and density of the fish gained extra character from a scallop mousse and pea puree.
A single dessert was offered that night, a chocolate souffle. It was the only meh moment of the evening — full-flavored, but thick and gooey. Still, after so much refinement, that wasn’t really much of a letdown.
The bar turned out a stalwart martini and, from the signature cocktail list, an “elixir of life” — a refreshing mixture of vodka, grapefruit, lemon and basil. We enjoyed charming French wines with the meal, too.
And other than a sense of being hurried along (there were several attempts to remove plates before we were finished), we enjoyed very pleasant service in this remarkably artistic, rewarding restaurant.
Duck Duck Goose 4 stars
Location: 814 S. Broadway
Contact: 443-869-21294, ddgbaltimore.com
Cuisine: Mostly French
Prices: Appetizers $6 to $21; entrees $18 to $38 (cote de boeuf for two $95)
Ambience: The rooms are lively, and inviting, the vibe dynamic.
Service: Efficient and personable, though we got the impression a time clock was running
Parking: Street, garages
Special diets: They can be accommodated.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]