To walk into Gunther & Co. in Brewers Hill is to be awed. The renovated boiler room of the old Gunther Brewing Co. is stunning with exposed brick, stainless steel and an imposing bar.
You are greeted by one of the friendliest hosts in Baltimore and treated regally by a genial bartender as you await other members of your party in the front room, which also houses a raw bar.
She mixes two unforgettable cocktails: a Western Haikus with green-tea infused vodka, house-made sour mix and sparkling sake; and a Gunther Social Club with gin, house sour mix, raspberries and egg white, carefully stenciled with a "G&Co" on top as we watch.
We haven't even seen the best part, our mixologist tells us. We see what she means when we walk down a hallway into the main dining room.
Smoke from the wood-burning oven tickles our noses with anticipation as we gaze wonderingly at the open kitchen, the mezzanine stretching above it, the 10-by-16-foot living wall thick with greenery and the seemingly sky-high vista with steel beams and pendant lights.
The rest of our night was almost magical — except for our waiter, who left us stranded at the end of the meal after he made a mistake on our bill.
But before that, we oohed and ahhed over the wood-oven roasted oysters — five plump bivalves perfumed with absinthe, fennel and bacon.
We also liked the scallop crudo appetizer. Five thick slices of creamy scallops were treated to a bath of grapefruit chunks, lime, Thai chilies and shallots. The sweet meat was then adorned with rice cracker crumbs and bright-green cilantro leaves.
Our other starter, called the Beet Down, missed the beat, though. The gob of green garlic fromage blanc overwhelmed the beets, which did not have much flavor by the time we received them.
The tea-smoked duck breast was a delicious entree, despite a brown assemblage that only got a zap of color from a tangy orange-ginger sauce. But once on the tongue, the tender duck, grilled oyster mushrooms, roasted olives and Pernod-roasted fennel packed a powerful palate punch.
The wood-oven roasted chicken was happiness on a plate with smoked baby potatoes, baby turnips, asparagus and pickled ramp jus. It was a great melange of homey ingredients.
The seared scallops soared with imagination. Three bronzed scallops were tucked atop an avocado puree and partly covered with a lovely green papaya salad strewn with Thai basil and cashews.
Jerry Trice is the executive chef of the kitchen, preparing what the restaurant describes as Modern American cuisine with global influences. He is also a partner in the restaurant, which opened in May, with Nancy Hart Mola, his fiancee.
Mola, who previously was involved in a Silver Spring restaurant, was looking for a new venture when she learned about the Gunther Brewing space.
"The D.C. market is so saturated," she said. "Baltimore was a natural."
Renovations at the restaurant, which seats 200 inside and 50 on the patio, took two years, she said.
It's a space where you want to linger. And you don't want to miss the wonderful desserts by pastry chef Aja Cage. Having sampled her creations in the past at Salt and at Fleet Street Kitchen, I was expecting sweet things and wasn't disappointed.
A slim wedge of chocolate pave (pronounced pah-VAY) was embellished with coconut dulce de leche and brown-butter pecan ice cream for a captivating dish.
A buttermilk panna cotta was a creamier version of the usual preparation and trumped with a pool of kumquat syrup, fresh grapefruit and a sprinkle of oat and seed granola atop the custard.
The square of carrot cake was a stickier rendition than we're used to, but it was good. We appreciated the blood orange-passion fruit sorbet shaped like a carrot.
We are still confused by how our night ended after a pleasant meal. Our waiter brought us the check, which included an item we hadn't ordered. After we pointed out the discrepancy, he adjusted the bill and returned it. We put our credit card on the table with the corrected check and waited. And waited.
After almost 30 minutes of being ignored, I had to get up and find a manager to close out our bill. We felt slighted.
But not for long. As we were walking out, our cheerful bartender from earlier in the evening saw us and shouted out that she hoped we had a good meal and would come back soon.