This past Wednesday, February 8th was the first Secret Supper event of 2017, and it was AWESOME. Before I get into the details, I’ll quickly go over what The Secret Supper is, if you don’t already know.
With the exciting news of Baltimore becoming one of The United States’ premiere cities for great food, actually coming in number 2 in Zagat’s top food cities in 2015, the folks at The Sun decided to introduce the people of this great city to some of the best, most appealing and interesting restaurants in Charm City.
They scoured Baltimore City to find 2016’s outstanding restaurants and hand selected their favorites to host this year’s inaugural Secret Supper series open to eager Baltimore food lovers. Yes. It’s a series, and each all-inclusive ticket allows you to enjoy a specialty cocktail and a remarkable 4-course meal with expert wine pairings. Plus the entire evening will only set you back $99. That’s a huge bargain if you ask me.
So what’s the secret? In each installment of the year-long 4-part series curated by The Baltimore Sun invites us all to experience an extraordinary menu at one of the city’s top restaurants – but which ones will you visit? They don’t give us a clue…yet! And in my opinion, that’s the best part. And yeah, maybe it’s also the hand-crafted cocktail, the four-course drool-worthy meal and the expert wine pairings, but let me say, the whole build up and anticipation waiting to find out WHERE we would be dining was extra fun. Shaking up the routine is something that I crave, and this steps in right where I need it.
Check out this quick video on the series, starring yours truly and yours truly’s husband!
Anyway, last year’s series ended with a bang at Birrotecca. It was an experience that was just, simply put, wonderful. As soon as the first supper of 2017 was announced for February 8th, you better believe I had it marked on the calendar. Sadly, my handsome husband was going to be out of town for the dinner, but as luck would have it, my mom would be in town, and was thrilled to be my date.
Anyway, as eager as I was the moment I learned the the kick-off date for the 2017 Secret Supper series, I was BEYOND excited, sitting on the edge of my seat even, waiting for the email the morning of to see where we’d be dining.
And the email didn’t disappoint. Not one bit. We’d be visiting the 1-year-old Italian hot spot, Cosima at Mill No. 1, a place I’d heard so many good things about, but never had the opportunity to venture to. Now, let me just explain. Yes, I love food. So does my husband, and my whole family for that matter. I mean, I have a food blog, for goodness sakes. But it’s hard to get out of our little Federal Hill / South Baltimore bubble. It’s hard to depart from our routine. I mean, we have 2 kids and one on the way. Sometimes, settling into comfort zones isn’t the worst thing in the world…
But to have the chance to get out of SoBo and up to Hampden-area, to shake up the daily grind, to do something new and exciting, it was just what I needed.
And plus, it was a fun way to show my mom some new areas of Baltimore that she hadn’t yet had the chance to explore, and to prove once again that Baltimore is way more than what’s on the news.
We arrived a little after 7 p.m., took advantage of the complimentary valet, and took in the surroundings of Mill No. 1. It’s truly beautiful. I love how Baltimore repurposes old buildings and gives them a new function.
Mill No. 1 “enjoys an important history along the Jones Falls, starting as a cotton mill in 1847 and in 1973 becoming the home of Life Like Products. The Mount Vernon Company, which operated several mills in the Jones Falls Valley, became the world’s largest producer of cotton duck in the late 19th century, supplying cotton for sails, uniforms, tents and parachutes for the army. The collection of buildings, listed on the National Register for Historic Places, dates from 1845 to 1918.” Cool, huh? (Thanks CosimaMill1.com for the info!)
Anyway, let’s get back to the point, shall we?
From the moment we walked over the cobblestones, under the strings of lights in the middle of the old mill, I momentarily forgot that I was even in Baltimore City. It felt foreign, and exciting. I couldn’t wait to get inside.
The interior was breathtaking. Exposed brick and stone greeted us, with modern-industrial architectural details. The 150-seat restaurant was something out of my design dreams, and I grew more excited with every step we took.
After checking in, wait-staff with trays of cocktails found us, offering one of two signature drinks: the Fiore di Limone, featuring kettle one vodka, dimmi elderflower liqueur, limoncello and house-made sour. The other was an Il Carrozzino, crafted with Bulleit bourbon, ramazzotti amaro, lemon juice and Scrappy’s cardomom bitters. Being pregnant, I chose neither and went with a hand-crafted mock-cocktail that they were more than happy to create for me, but my mom opted for the Fiore di Limone, and it was bright, cheery and delicious.
We were directed to our seats at a “family style” table, typical of other Secret Suppers, and admired the beautiful set-up, and of course, the menu.
We were in for quite a treat, that’s for sure! And our table mates to my left were AWESOME! (Hey, Chris and Kathleen!) That’s one of my favorite parts about the Secret Supper, you know. Getting to meet new people, people you wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to get to know. Making new friends is all part of the experience.
Before I knew it, the first course wine, a bright Colosi, Bianco Sicilia, Imzolia, Sicily, 2015, was poured for the table, and our first course, the Pesce Spada Crudo, swordfish crudo with oranges, fennel, red onion, fried capers and lemon aioli were coming out. And they were beautiful. Simply beautiful. The flavors were mild, yet intoxicating. The bright acidity from the citrus, the brine of the capers combined with the delicate yet firm fish kicked our meal off the right way.
The next course, Pere Arrosta de Gorgonzola, was the most intriguing to me just at menu’s glance. It featured a roasted pear with gorgonzola, dried mission figs, walnuts, arugula, radicchio, and fig vin cotto, paired with another bright wine, this time, the little more full bodied Varvaglione, 12 e Mezzo Malvasia, Puglia, 2015.
When it was presented in front of us, I have to be honest, it wasn’t the most visually appealing dish I’d ever encountered, but that didn’t stop me from digging right in. And oh my goodness. This was one of the most exquisite preparations of anything I’d experienced during my Secret Supper journey thus far. I was floored with how the piping-hot and mildly sweet pear complimented the pungent and creamy gorgonzola. It was as though they treated the pear as a piece of meat, and created this hearty dish that wowed not just mine, but the whole table’s tastebuds. It was incredibly inventive, yet somehow screamed classicism. It was confusing and wonderful, and I wish I had another one now, a week later.
Our third course was an impressive dish: Ragu di Cinghiale, braised wild boar, house-made fennel sausage and pancetta in a rich tomato sauce over stone-ground polenta, paired with a big, bold red wine, a Menhir Salento, Il Mandorlo Negoamaro, Puglia, 2015.
The portion size was huge. HUGE! I’m mean, they really took a page from Birroteca’s book. What I mean is that SOMETIMES during the last season of Secret Suppers, I’d mentioned that my husband and I, along with our table-mates had felt some of our portions were more “tasting” portions, rather than comprising a full meal. And I hate to say it, that’s disappointing.
If you remember back to my Birroteca post, I was blown away by the beautifully huge 3rd course portion size, and how overjoyed I was, as well as Michael, and everyone else we spoke with, for that matter. It left a lasting, HAPPY, impression on us, making us WANT to leave our comfy little bubble in SoBo, and actually go back up north to visit again.
And guess what? Like Birroteca, Cosima’s 3rd course blew me away. And it wasn’t just the healhty size. It blew my mom away. It blew everyone at my table away, except the vegetarian. She enjoyed the pasta puttanesca substitution, and that portion was HUGE too! I’m sure it blew her away. Basically the boar blew away the entire audience of the Secret Supper. I heard so many people talking about it at nearly every table as I walked through the space on our way out later that night.
The meat itself was perfectly tender, melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It was slap-you-in-the-face succulent. It was juicy, deep and seductive. The sauce was robust, flavorful, acidic, bright and amazing. Then there was the polenta. THE POLENTA. It was creamy and hearty at the same time. It was packed full of corn flavor, and went perfectly with the boar and the tomato sauce. The whole dish was hearty, and a meal in and of itself. But let me also say, it was a perfect progression from the light crudo, and the light yet still meat-like pear.
For our 4th and final course of the evening, we enjoyed a vanilla panna cotta with blackberry sauce paired with a sweet yet not sticky-sweet dessert wine, Librandi, Le Passule Passito, Mantonico, 2015. It was what you’d want panna cotta to be. It was cold, vanilla-ey, creamy divinity. I couldn’t finish it, though I wanted to. I had fully enjoyed every other course in its full up to this point and I had reached my max-fill limit. But man, it was tasty, and was a perfect end to a perfect meal.
The chef and staff at Cosima created a very well thought out meal for us that evening, and in doing so, they created an environment of joy, adventure and excitement, all with new friends, food and wine at the center.
It was impressive, and I have to say, I can’t wait to get back out to the mills for another memorable evening, this time, with my handsome hubby.