Tuesday, June 13th was the third Secret Supper event of 2017, and it surprised me with its deliciousness. And as usual, 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 THE outstanding restaurants around, and hand selected their favorites to host this year’s second Secret Supper series open to eager Baltimore food lovers, like you and me. 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!
The first 2 Secret Suppers of 2017 were AMAZING. ,The 2017 Secret Supper series kicked off with a bang at Cosima, the modern Italian restaurant up in Mill no. 1, recognized for their fresh take on the Mediterranean cuisine of Sicily, while also capturing the essence of traditional Southern Italian flavors, through their menu and cocktail assortment.
The second installment was at The Elephant in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Charm City, and not only was the food intricate, but the space was insanely beautiful and detailed. That was one memorable experience.
So the morning of June 13th, I sat on the edge of my seat as I always tend to do on Secret Supper days, waiting for the email to find its way into my inbox, where the beans will be spilled. Where will we go? What will we experience? I NEED TO KNOW!
Finally the email arrived, and I learned we would be dining at an established restaurant in Mt. Vernon, City Cafe, with our meal headed up by Chef James Jennings.
I had actually never heard of City Cafe before I opened the email, but when I visited the restaurant’s website and perused their menu, I was very excited. It looked like elevated American cuisine, with items like shrimp and grits, crab cakes and wagyu meatloaf, I knew we’d be in for a treat.
I do want to make clear that the regular menu will not necessarily reflect the Secret Supper menu, but at least I could get a feel for the flavors the chef likes to put together and serve his eager guests. I was very excited.
This time, Michael and I weren’t going to be alone in our date-night out. My beautiful mom’s birthday just so happened to fall on the same day as the Secret Supper, so I purchased tickets for her and my dad so we could all go out and celebrate her life together in a fun way. They were really excited, since this would be their first Secret Supper event, and after reading about it for the past year and a half, they were amped to see what it was all about for themselves.
So the time came, and we headed out the door headed straight for City Cafe, excited, hungry and ready to see what they had in store for us. We arrived just before the 7 p.m. seating, and I immediately loved the space. The 23-year-old restaurant is clean, airy, bright and comfortable. It’s warm yet still modern and minimal, and it really just appealed to my tastes.
My parents had arrived just before us, and once we were all gathered, we were directed to a 4-top table by the bar. This would be my first experience with the Secret Supper where I wouldn’t be seated with strangers, and honestly, I’m glad since it was my mom’s birthday. This was her day! We wanted to be able to have a nice family dinner, so I’m glad they could set that up for us.
I want to quickly pause here, and make an important point to anyone who is interested in going to a Secret Supper in the future. If you have any special needs or requests, dietary or otherwise, you can contact someone directly and communicate that with them. These people with The Baltimore Sun are more than happy to help accommodate any needs you may have! How cool is that?
Anyway, after we were seated, we noticed people walking around with their welcome cocktails. Somehow, we all missed them at the front, so my husband and dad went to track them down. My mom and dad both selected the Picnic by the Bay cocktail, featuring Ketel One vodka, lemon, watermelon puree with a sea salt garnish.
Michael chose the other drink, Fun in the Sun, featuring Don Julio Blanco, lime, jalapeño infused agave nectar and blood orange puree.
Since I’m pregnant, I clearly didn’t get a cocktail, but I did take small tastes of both, and I have to say, I thought I’d like the vodka-based drink over the tequila-based drink, because I’m more of a vodka girl than a tequila girl, but after tasting both, that Fun in the Sun is what I would have chosen. It was INSANELY good. Not to say the Picnic by the Bay wasn’t delicious, because it was, but WOW. The margarita style drink with blood orange and jalapeño just took the cake for me. Delicious.
Once they all had their drinks, and we were settled in, it was time to go over the menu and see what we were going to be enjoying that evening.
We were looking at a four-course meal, starting with a soup, heading into a salad, then would come the main course, and we’d land at dessert, each with an accompanying wine paring. Let’s get this party started!
Before we knew it, our soup was being delivered, and I knew right away that this would be a good meal. We were having Maryland Crab Soup, chock-full of jumbo lump crab, bacon, and veggies, and it was paired with a 2014 Spanish Albarino.
First of all, the portion size was significant. It wasn’t just a little thimble-full of soup. Nope. Plus, it was beautiful, and smelled robust, aromatic and fresh. It was piping hot, and there was a good hunk of bread accompanying it. There was a TON of crab in this soup, and it was delicious.
My dad said it reminded him of his mom’s gumbo, and I have to agree. It ate like a gumbo that has been sitting, simmering on the stove for HOURS and HOURS. It was packed with tons of flavor, tons of layers, and tons of textures. The wine was a good pair for the soup, as it was bright and fragrant. Basically, our first course was sensational. We all loved it, and thought it was a great way to start the meal.
Wait time between courses wasn’t long at all. In fact, I’d say it was the perfect amount of time, so after our soup course was removed from our table, it wasn’t long before we were presented with our First Bite, a watermelon salad with goat cheese, crispy quinoa, mango balsamic and olive oil, served with a 2016 Italian Bertarose.
It is said that we eat with our eyes first, and my word, my eyes were seduced and tempted, and I couldn’t wait to take my first bite of the First Bite. It was gorgeous. But how’d it taste? Just as beautiful, in my opinion.
The watermelon was cold, juicy and refreshing, while the goat cheese was pungent, creamy and rich. The quinoa provided some nice texture contrast, and the mango balsamic was sweet yet tart. The mint set everything off, and brought all of the flavors together. Each element was delicious on its own, but when a bite came together, with an element of each, ohhh-weee. It was smart. Bright, refreshing, seductive, luxurious and bold. I was enamored. I finished each and every bite on my plate, that’s for sure.
The wine, a rosé, was the perfect pair, as it was slightly-sweet yet dry and mild. The whole thing was gratifying.
The waitstaff gave us a leisurely amount of time to enjoy the salad before removing the plates, and the third course, our Principal, was brought out soon after. And oh my, it was a beauty.
We were presented with a beautiful filet of rockfish with crispy skin, whipped potatoes, green beans, a lemon crab salad and beurre blanc, served with a 2015 Californian Chardonnay. It certainly was another stunner of a plate.
The fish was perfectly cooked, and the skin was delightfully crisp. The potatoes were so silky smooth, and seasoned beautifully. The green beans were crunchy and bright, and the crab salad was cold, an interesting contrast to the hot fish, potatoes and beans.
The plate as a whole was a beautiful concept, and I really enjoyed each and every bite, until it was all gone. Yep, another clean plate.
The chardonnay was yet again, another great pairing. It wasn’t a terribly oaky wine, but it was full bodied, and full flavored, ideal for a main course dish like this.
Finally, we landed the plane at dessert, James’ Bread Pudding, with white and dark chocolate and milk chocolate sauce. This was served with a 2014 New York Riesling.
Now, this wasn’t your average bread pudding. I guess when I think of bread pudding, I think of loose and saturated sweetness. It’s usually a dish where leftover stale bread gets a second chance, and frankly, it’s really not my favorite. But this bread pudding ate more like a dense cake. It was firm, tender, moist, sweet, and plain yummy. At this point, I was pretty full, since I’d eaten the first 3 courses completely, but I will say, it was a delicious way to end the meal.
I truly feel that the meal was smartly crafted, meaning that the flow from beginning to end was seamless. The progression made sense, and it was fun to enjoy the evolution from beginning to end. I’m really glad I was introduced to City Cafe, and I promise, if it weren’t for the Secret Supper, I’d never even know about this place, so for that, I am once again grateful to this series.
I absolutely love Secret Supper nights, not only because it shakes up the routine, and gets us out of the house to do something fun and exciting, as well as providing us with a date-night, which I know I need to keep sane, but it also affords us the opportunity to venture outside of Federal Hill, find new places and eat some truly delicious food all around our beautiful city, Charm City. Plus, Secret Supper tickets make EXCELLENT gifts!!!