Fleet Street Kitchen off to a strong start

You'd have to look long and hard to come up with a false move at the new Fleet Street Kitchen, either in the execution of the menu or the management of the posh suite of dining rooms.

The physical space, the ground level of a former furniture factory in Harbor East, is grand but, even with chandeliers and monumental displays of white orchids, not imposing. Everywhere there is impressive, eye-catching evidence of both masterful contemporary artisanship and keen judgment about reclaimed materials. Pause at the host stand to look at the basket-weave woodcarving. Look in the bar for foot rails, which were fashioned from trolley tracks that ran under the factory's floor.

Or just go sit down. You may never want to get up from your chair, covered in pearl-gray fabric as soft as the skin of a peach. Your waiter will bring your single-page menus, a refreshingly simple arrangement of appetizers and entrees, about 10 of each, and a small selection of vegetables that have been culled from Baltimore County farms. One of these, Cunningham Farms in Cockeysville, is the pride of Fleet Street Kitchen owners Jane and David Smith.

The third entry from the Smiths' Bagby Restaurant Group, following the informal Bagby Pizza Co. and the bistro-chic Ten Ten, Fleet Street Kitchen is their foray into serious dining.

Fleet Street Kitchen, it turns out, is at heart a farm-to-table restaurant. But it's one free of rusticity and other affectations. Instead, in the hands of the young chef, Chris Becker, it signals a shift in the farm-to-table vernacular. The materials might be local and seasonal, but they're transformed by Becker and his crew into elegant showcases of originality and technique.

So, an appetizer of chicken liver, instead of being served in a mason jar, is presented, with a small square of honey cake, as a Cubist assemblage of pickled carrots, coriander blossoms, orange peel confit and a vanilla reduction. The liver itself is silky smooth and seasoned subtly, just enough to bring out its rich flavor. Fluke, from the Chesapeake Bay, is delivered in paper-thin slices with pickled onions, fennel, jalapeno and a grouping of citrus purees. The crowning touch is a gentle spoonful of tapioca flavored with Earl Grey tea. Even that farm-to-table cliche, pork belly, is given fresh consideration, softened by a sunny egg, hollandaise and a plucky tomato jam.

It's worth pausing here to point out that these plates offer brief, intense moments — which is what appetizers should do — but they do so delicately. OK, they're small. Or they might seem small, considering their cost, if you're concerned about portion size. You might want to think about which friends you come here with.

And while we're giving alerts, know that the wine list is presented to diners electronically, on a tablet computer. It might sound crass, but it happens to be impeccably arranged, easy as pie to use and, you will be told, an alternative to the groaning volume the restaurant's rich wine holdings would fill if it were presented on paper.

Entrees are excellent. There is a not-to-be-missed plate of braised beef ribs, which Becker has woven with roasted carrots, a carrot crumble, farro and a luxurious date puree, which tastes like the arrival of autumn. Technique shines in the roasted chicken breast entree, served as medallions with chestnut stuffing, celery root and house-cured bacon with a Calvados chicken jus.

An entree of black grouper is turned into a savory symphony with olives and a piquillo pepper sauce and speckled butter beans that have been bathed in clam juice.

Throughout are golden moments, beginning at the well-tended central bar, which has on tap surprising things like a Flanders Red Sour Ale, and ending with the dessert course, when things get downright flamboyant, with a fromage blanc cheese cake, grilled cheese served with tomato jam and, best of all, a chocolate rum soup with chocolate semi-fredo, cider-braised figs and white sweet potato puree.

It's been a great couple of weeks new restaurant openings in Baltimore. Ouzo Bay has pulled into Harbor East like a posh cruise ship, and Birroteca showed up just outside Hamden like a glowing gift.

If the total effect pulls up just short, perhaps, of passionate dining, it's because there is a hint of self-consciousness among the service staff, who seem to be performing for an unseen audience.

That should disappear quickly enough, though. Fleet Street is just getting started, but it could quickly establish itself as a game changer for Baltimore dining.

Fleet Street Kitchen

Rating: ****

Where: 1012 Fleet St., Harbor East

Contact: 410-244-5830, fleetstreetkitchen.com

Open: Dinner Monday through Saturday

Prices: Appetizers, $11-$17; entrees, $22-$32

Food: Stylish and original interpretations of farm-to-table cuisine

Service: Formally trained but friendly

Best dishes: Chicken liver parfait, marinated fluke, braised beef short ribs

Children: No children's menu

Parking: Valet parking available as well as street and convenient garage parking

Noise level: Comfortable in the main dining room

Outdoor seating: Patio seating in courtyard

[Key: Superlative: *****; Excellent: ****; Very Good: ***; Good: **; Promising: *]

  • Text DINING to 70701 to sign up for dining news and restaurant reviews text alerts
  • Nearby reviews: Dish Baltimore - Harbor East

    Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad