Eats and Drinks
Bagby Restaurant Group’s flagship delivers the high-end goods
Published: October 29, 2012
For some, pricey Harbor East hotspot Fleet Street Kitchen (1012 Fleet St.,  244-5830, fleetstreetkitchen.com) may be a go-to spot for a weeknight steak ($29) or a slab of monkfish topped with crispy pork belly ($27), washed down with a hearty $19 glass of cab.
But for the, dare I say, 99 percent of us, it’s most likely more of a special-occasion spot. Maybe not engagement or graduation special, on the order of nearby Charleston, but certainly birthday special or visiting-out-of-towners-want-to-treat-us-to-a-meal-but-we-don’t-want-to-exploit-them special.
The newest entry from the Bagby Restaurant Group, owners of Bagby Pizza Company and Ten Ten, in the eponymous building next door, should definitely be high on those lists. It’s a lovely space, with arts-and-crafts-style leather banquettes, a forged wagon wheel chandelier and exposed beams in the street-level front dining room; there is plaid upholstery and an open kitchen in the loft-like space—illuminated by elegant glittering chandeliers—in the back. Clearly, a great deal of thought has gone into the decor as well as the service: The staff has been trained to scoot out of the way of passing guests and personally escort you to the restroom.
But for all the effort that has gone into the fixed commodity of ambiance, it’s the menu that matters, and Fleet Street Kitchen delivers. The kitchen has been assembled largely from local rising stars: Chris Becker, who made his name at the Wine Market, is the executive chef (overseeing culinary operations for all the Bagby properties), while another Wine Market alum, Jason Lear, is chef de cuisine. (One more Wine Market turncoat, by the way, is general manager Nicodemus Bustos, who also worked for the Foreman Wolf group—which may be a clue to the punctilious service.)
Let’s go back to that out-of-town guest scenario. If you’re inclined to prove to your guests that Baltimore is a town with a sophisticated food scene, that Maryland is truly America in Miniature, nestled in the heart of lush offerings from the farm and the sea—in short, there’s more to our food than crab cakes from Venezuela—here’s your spot. In fact, the only crab on the menu appears in a blue crab salad (the shellfish derived from Dorchester County, Md., we’re told), served with baby radish and tarragon-lime dressing. On the other hand, there’s seafood from up and down the Eastern seaboard, notably monkfish from New Hampshire, lobster from Maine and scallops from Cape May, N.J. Meats hail from nearby farms, and much of the produce—and the eggs—is from owner David Smith’s Cunningham estate in Cockeysville.
Many of us appreciate the challenges and limits presented by seasonal, farm-to-table cooking, but Becker and Lear elevate what’s available with preparations both classic and creative, without hesitating to introduce far-flung elements to brighten a dish. Even so, when an ingredient is good—like a tender, braised, slide-off-the bone veal shank, there’s simply no reason to mess with it. The lima bean ragout with thick wedges of meaty artichoke that surrounds the veal is likewise not too fussy, leaving the flavors and textures alone.
But that doesn’t mean the chefs don’t brandish their fine-dining credentials. The fluke appetizer is marinated in vinegar, escabeche-style, and is nestled in pale yellow citrus puree on a long plate ornamented with flecks of color: pink pickled onion, a sliver of green pepper, a sprig of mint. The fish itself is sweet and fresh, each morsel a cool burst of flavor. Another appetizer, duck confit, is a pleasantly fatty brick of shredded meat with a sweet soubis. And Proven�al sauce turns grouper, clams, and cannellini beans into a fragrant fish stew.
Speaking of soups, save room for the chocolate-rum dessert, rich milk chocolate broth adorned with tiny figs and crumbles of chocolate biscuit, ceremoniously poured around two cubes of espresso gelato. Executive pastry chef Bettina Parry (who’s worked at Bonjour and Brasserie Tatin, Linwoods and others) offers an array of creative desserts and cheeses, both sweet and savory.
The wine and spirits at Fleet Street Kitchen are, like most of the menu, a bit dear for the budget-minded. The $13 Dutch revolt—a sweet and tart concoction of Genever, B�n�dictine, lemon, and the French aperitif Pineau des Charentes—filled less than half a diminutive cocktail glass. The wine list, presented on a leather-bound iPad, move easily into the three digits.
But the pricing is intentional, and if you don’t like it, you can skip across the courtyard to Bagby Pizza, opened in 2009 as a true cheap eat, and the casual Ten Ten bistro opened two years later. Fleet Street Kitchen is meant to be the flagship for the group, the crown jewel in the small collection. So if there’s a birthday gift in the offing, the place is a gem.
Fleet street kitchen is open for dinner Monday though Thursday, 5-10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5-11 p.m.
> Email Martha Thomas