In a dizzying shuffle of staff, Fleet Street Kitchen is on its fourth chef since opening in 2012. But the latest recruit, Michael Correll, on board for more than a year, seems to have found a niche at the Harbor East restaurant.
The Maryland native, who worked at the much-lauded Lacroix Restaurant in Philadelphia, isn't completely new to the Bagby Restaurant Group, which oversees Fleet Street Kitchen. He was previously a sous chef at Cunningham's in Towson.
Correll stepped into his new role with confidence, as shown in a one-page menu focused on carefully sourced products, including those from the restaurant group's Cunningham Farms in Baltimore County. Suggested pairings on the menu match each dish to a wine.
On the surface, the menu looks routine: bibb lettuce salad, short rib and salmon, for example. But each dish gets an extra touch that shows thoughtfulness and care — the salad is served with chilled lobster, the short rib with pastrami and the salmon with mussels.
Our server, a polite, soft-spoken man we could barely hear at times, pointed out that the portions might not satisfy our appetites and we should consider ordering a dish or two from the vegetables category.
His point was well taken. The plates aren't overflowing with food, but they are carefully constructed — in some cases, deconstructed — to showcase each ingredient. The still-life results are beautiful.
The drinks are as much fun as the food. One of my dinner companions started her meal with an Ed & Otts cocktail, a heady mix that included Old Granddad bourbon and Aperol, an Italian aperitif. The cocktail is named after the grandfathers of two of the Bagby Group's head bartenders.
There are also local beers, including some from Monument City and Brewer's Art, and others from countries that include Canada, Belgium and Germany. An international selection of wines by the glass and bottle is presented via iPad.
Fleet Street Kitchen's main dining room is a blend of elegance and rustic charm. Glistening chandeliers, crisp white tablecloths and tartan plaid banquettes complement wood and metal architectural details and a stainless-steel open kitchen.
A meal here starts in formal style with an amuse-bouche. On our visit, we downed a petite gulp of golden raisins, white verjus, celery root and walnuts for a palate teaser before diving into our appetizers.
The menu items have pedigrees, if you care about those things. For instance, the Angus steak tartare appetizer hailed from Creekstone Farms in Kansas. Once in the hands of Fleet Street Kitchen, it was molded into a ruby-red square of ground meat enhanced with a miso-truffle emulsion, shaved radishes and crispy Brussels sprouts spread on toasted baguette slices.
We were also impressed with the Berkshire pork belly (originating from Cunningham Farms), fingerling potatoes, soft leeks, navel orange segments, shaved fennel and black olives. For greenery, the baby kale salad offered another power-packed flavor combo with roasted acorn squash, shaved Honeycrisp apples and toasted pecans tossed with a sweet maple-sherry vinaigrette.
Each of us was sure we had the best appetizer of the evening. But I have to applaud the kitchen for the foie gras torchon, which offered a poached round of delicate goose liver with a slice of warm banana bread, a smear of Concord grape jam, shaved radishes and a black walnut crumble.
We continued to be dazzled by the entrees, and despite what our waiter said, we thought the portions were adequate for most appetites. In fact, the ember-roasted carrots, the vegetable side dish we ordered, was our only disappointment of the evening. The carrots were woefully overcooked.
But we were smitten with the pastrami short rib, a pairing of the spicy, cured meat with succulent, slow-cooked beef. Sauerkraut-rye breadcrumbs continued a Jewish deli theme.
The stunning fillet of cod made its way from Iceland and was topped with a delicate potato crust. It sat like a boat in a sea of lobster broth with lump crabmeat, a bean ragout, gooseberries and mizuna, a salad green, strewn about like grass clippings.
We also savored the Ora King salmon, a breed from New Zealand, perched atop a chickpea-tomato stew. We liked how the chef continued the marine flavors in the seafood dishes with an additional element, like the mussels in the stew.
The Heritage pork duo, another contribution from Cunningham Farms, featured a delicious terrine of pork confit and a tender pork loin buried under a confetti of shaved turnips.
Pastry chef Jennifer Walton keeps up the creative momentum with her desserts. Each one is deeply layered with flavors.
The citrus cheesecake was a lush version with candied kumquats, hazelnuts and thin sesame tuile. A seemingly ordinary caramel apple crisp came with a cinnamon-sugar brioche crunch pastry and Calvados cream.
A praline "Kit Kat" takes the candy bar to another level, with malted whipped cream and a milk sorbet. If that's not enough sweetness, small tea cookies brushed with blood-orange glaze are delivered on a plate with the check at the end of the meal.
Fleet Street Kitchen's growing pains are over. Correll and his staff have brought a stable influence to the table, from start to finish.