Spain seduces the second time around



Parque del Buen Retiro

Would you entertain a second date with someone who didn’t leave a good impression the first time?

That’s how I feel about destinations, which don’t get second chances with me. I made an exception for Spain last summer, giving in to my husband’s repeated pleas to visit the land of tango and tapas. I figured that way,  Spain would be off the table for good and I could say “I told you so.

Well it turns out I was wrong. I fell hard for the country I rejected on our first date.

That first time was in July 2001, when, as 20-something woman, I made a 10-day solo trip to Barcelona, Granada and Seville. Gaudi, the Alhambra and the birthplace of Cervantes failed to captivate me. I was put off by what seemed like an inordinate amount of petty — and sometimes violent — crime in Barcelona, which I witnessed first hand. I didn’t engage with many Spaniards, perhaps because my Spanish then was limited to a few useful phrases. (Donde esta el servicio, por favor.)  It’s not much better now, but I can readily rattle off a few more phrases now.  This was also pre 9-11  and pre 2004 Madrid subway bombings — a time when free-flowing travel to top European destinations was taken for granted. Spain is, of course, still one of the top tourist destinations in the world. But the confidence that nothing can disrupt the nonstop arrival of adventurers has been shaken.

Spain’s hoteliers, restaurant owners and tourist guides worked hard to win me over this time around, it seemed. I was smitten with Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville and Granada. Memories of eating pimientos de padron at the Mercado de San Miguel and the breathtaking view of the Alhambra at sunset from the Albaicin stayed with me for months. I imagined all the towns I would hit the next time around. Cadaques, San Sebastian, Malaga, Valencia.

Like a boorish romantic suitor who steadily turns up the charm, Spain cast a spell the second time around, much like Jane Austen’s hero in Pride and Prejudice. Spain is my Mr. Darcy.



Madrid’s Arc de Triomphe, the Puerta de Alcala



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Mussel Bar & Grille now open in Baltimore


Biere, moules et frites. Those are the specialties at Robert Wiedmaier’s ode to the Belgian roadside dive, Mussel Bar and Grille, which opened March 10 in Baltimore’s Harbor East neighborhood.

The 8,000-square-foot restaurant will open at 1350 Lancaster St., home of the former Townhouse Kitchen + Bar. It will be the third outpost for Mussel Bar, which you can also find in Bethesda and Arlington, Va. In addition to its signature mussels, beer and fries, the restaurant also serves steak frites, wood-fired pizzas, fish and other seafood dishes. The RW Restaurant Group hired 75  to work at the restaurant.

RW Restaurant Group also operates Marcel’s, Wildwood and Brabo.

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Firenze restaurant opening Feb. 12 in Reisterstown


Pizza, lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs are making their way to Reisterstown’s historic Main Street.

The 100-seat Firenze will open to the public Feb. 12 at 2 Hanover St. The upscale casual restaurant will also feature craft beer, cocktails and more than 100 premium wines from Italy and California.

Firenze will hold a fundraiser Feb. 11 to benefit local firefighters.

Owners Brian and Larry Leonardi are Baltimore natives with roots in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood.

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Morty’s Delicatessen is betting on Maryland Live Casino

Morty's Delicatessen

Maryland Live Casino’s newest restaurant is a New York-style deli that serves up corned beef and pastrami sandwiches. The 84-seat Morty’s Delicatessen opened in early January and is located on the casino floor, next to the Maryland Live buffet.

The Papa Louie Special features turkey, roast brisket, Swiss cheese, tomato, lettuce and Russian dressing on rye while The Chairman is a double decker sandwich with turkey pastrami, beef salami, brisket, Swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing on rye. It also serves homemade soups, including matzo ball, chicken noodle and Maryland crab.

It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. Folks looking to grab a sandwich in the wee hours are in luck. Morty’s  stays open until 3 a.m. on weekdays and 4 a.m. on weekends. Breakfast items include egg sandwiches, omelets and bagels.

Other restaurants at the casino at Arundel Mills include Luke Fu, Phillips Seafood, The Prime Rib and The Cheesecake Factory.


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Exploring the historic streets and spicy cuisine of Charleston, S.C.

Manses along Battery Row in Charleston

Manses along Battery Row in Charleston

You’re a (sub)urban Maryland couple looking for a short U.S. getaway late October/early Nov. There should be a direct, nonstop flight from BWI to said destination. The locale should be at least 10 degrees warmer than Baltimore. There should be good, unique, local cuisine and plenty to do. Not a stay on the beach all day every day kinda gal and neither is DH.

Do you pick a) Tampa b) Santa Fe c) Charleston.

We had been to Tampa and surrounding environs (Naples, St. Petersburg, etc.) a couple of times, so it was time to try some place new. I would have picked Santa Fe, but I missed out on the  Wanna Get Away fare on Southwest Airlines. As I was scrolling through the list of cities it hit me — Charleston!

Beautiful Charleston, with its palmetto-lined streets, spicy lowcountry cuisine and eclectic blend of Greek Revival, Italianate and Georgian-style architecture, has popped up on so many Best Of travel lists but yet had somehow escaped my wanderlust.

Truth is, I have found many beloved cities a tad overrated (New Orleans, I’m looking at you.) But once I discovered its charms, I was hooked. My imagination ran wild as I pictured the elegant soirées that went on behind the colorful, ornate multimillion-dollar manses.

I discovered that Charleston’s historic treasures are among the best preserved not only in the nation but the world.We took a walking tour of the city with Oyster Point Historic Walking Tours , a horse and carriage ride with Old South Carriage Co., a tour of the Nathaniel Russell House Museum, and Middleton Place Plantation.


Historic Charleston City Market

Historic Charleston City Market

The U.S. Custom House in Charleston

The U.S. Custom House in Charleston

Big old manse along the Battery in Charleston

Big old manse along the Battery in Charleston

Palm tree and cool building in downtown Charleston

Palm tree and cool building in downtown Charleston

Dining in Charleston was a treat for this pescatarian who asks for Sriracha even before tasting my dish. South Carolina Lowcountry cuisine is rich with a variety of seafoods and exotic influences from the Caribbean and Africa. We ate dishes like cornmeal-fried catfish with fennel sausage (OK, I eat some meat), butter beans, sweet corn and spicy tomato gravy at Blossom; fennel-dusted scallops with lima beans, leeks, shiitake mushrooms and mint at Muse Restaurant & Wine Bar; and, my absolute favorite, blackened escolar with jalapeno cornbread, blue crab etoufée and pickled okra.

The food is rich. Very rich. It would have been smart for us to order one entrée and a few appetizers. But we’re not practical when it comes to food. We think with our stomachs and not our head.

Inside Muse restaurant in Charleston

Inside Muse restaurant in Charleston

Scallops at Muse restaurant in Charleston. Fennel dusted and served on top lima beans, shitaake mushrooms, potatoes, leeks, & mint.

Scallops at Muse restaurant in Charleston. Fennel dusted and served on top lima beans, shitaake mushrooms, potatoes, leeks, & mint.

Blackened escolar at Coast restaurant in Charleston

Blackened escolar at Coast restaurant in Charleston

Cashew-crusted grouper with cilantro cream pesto at Coast restaurant in Charleston. Served on top of potatoes and green beans.

Cashew-crusted grouper with cilantro cream pesto at Coast restaurant in Charleston. Served on top of potatoes and green beans.


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Ryleigh’s Oyster opening Mount Vernon location Dec. 16

Soon you’ll be able to slurp some oysters before listening to Beethoven in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. The owner of Ryleigh’s Oyster will open his third location Dec. 16  across the street from Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

The popular restaurant will take the spot formerly occupied by Mari Luna Mexican Bistro. Other restaurant tenants at 1225 Cathedral St. have included Robert Oliver Seafood and 23rd Degree Restaurant and Wine Bar. It was also once home to the legendary Spike & Charlie’s, co-owned by Spike Gjerde. Ryleigh’s Facebook page says the new Mount Vernon restaurant will open at 3 p.m.

Ryleigh’s Owner Brian McComas opened his second location in Timonium. The original restaurant is on Federal Hill’s Cross Street a year ago.

Ryleigh's Oyster coming to Mount Vernon

Ryleigh’s Oyster coming to Mount Vernon


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#FBF: Finding a Chagall in Zagreb

Fairytale architecture in the city of Zagreb

Fairytale architecture in the city of Zagreb

So the tagline for this blog is food, art and travel. So I’d better take a short detour from my food obsession to write about my love of globetrotting, museum hopping and finding an unexpected treasure in the Museum of the City of Zagreb in Croatia’s capital.

We spent two weeks in Croatia last year, starting in the walled waterfront city of Dubrovnik. We made our way up the coast to Split and Zadar, then the Plitvice Lakes in central Croatia. Finally, we ended in Zagreb. I found Croatia’s capital to be highly underrated and overlooked by travelers. But it’s full of fairytale architecture reminiscent of Prague and unique city museums. We visited three museums: The Museum of Contemporary Art, ode to heartbreak The Museum of Broken Relationships and the aforementioned city museum. The museum is housed in a lovely restored 17th century building and offered a fascinating exhibits highlighting the history of the city and Eastern European country.

Somehow this museum came into possession of a Marc Chagall painting, “Girl With a Bird,” and I made it my mission to find it among the densely packed artifacts and artworks in this three-floor attraction. I had to scan the museum a couple of times before I found it.

Marc Chagall's "Girl with a Bird" at the City Museum in Zagreb

Marc Chagall’s “Girl with a Bird” at the City Museum in Zagreb

I love the French-Russian artist’s colorful blend of cubism and surrealism. His paintings are a more whimsical version of those of Pablo Picasso’s.

“When [Henri] Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is” Picasso said in the 1950s. Finding the painting made our visit a scavenger hunt as well a cultural outing. The Chagall is listed as one of the Top 5 Secret Things to See in Zagreb.

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New chefs and menu on deck at the Boathouse, Pazo and B&O

Winter is a time of rebirth and renewal, making it an ideal season for restaurants to revamp their menus. Or something like that. It’s also a good time to ditch the low-carb diet to savor some comfort foods.

Leave your house if you can, like I did, in order to try new dishes at Pazo in Harbor East, downtown Baltimore’s B&O American Brasserie and The Boathouse Canton.

First up is B&O. Though open for five years now, it remains a serious contender in Baltimore’s culinary scene. Most of the tables in the 4,500-square-foot restaurant were occupied when I dined with my husband on a Tuesday night in early November. We had a chance to chat with the B&O’s new Executive Chef, Mike Ransom, who recently moved to Baltimore from San Francisco.

The chili and garlic calamari, made in a brick oven, tasted more like a stew and bore no resemblance to the fried stuff that you might get at a sports bar. We also tried the sweet and savory potato and leek pancake topped with an apple salad.

My absolute favorite dish was the sweet potato gnocchi, served with Brussels sprouts and sage fried in butter. It’s the kind of dish you think about long after the meal and wonder when you’ll get your next fix. And hey sweet potatoes are good carbs!

sweet potato gnocchi at B&O American Brasserie

sweet potato gnocchi at B&O American Brasserie

Pazo last summer switched its focus from Spanish to Southern Italian cuisine under the guidance of Executive Chef Julian Marucci. The cavernous, two-story restaurant made its mark 10 years ago for being among the first restaurants in the city to open in a former industrial building.

I recently tasted some of the new dishes along with some other food writers. My favorites were the wood-grilled octopus; crispy mozzarella di bufala with Brussels sprouts and spicy tomato sauce (yeah I love the Brussels); and, the bucatini with lobster, tomato and — wait for it — Brussels sprouts. Tony Foreman, who owns Pazo and other restaurants in the Foreman Wolf Group, was on hand to talk about the dishes and the accompanying Italian wines.

Bucatini with lobster and Brussels sprouts

Bucatini with lobster and Brussels sprouts

Next, we head to The BoatHouse Canton where I recently joined about two dozen other local media folks on the second floor of the waterfront restaurant, ideally suited for a private event. Standout dishes from Chef Matt Campbell’s winter menu included the lobster mac and cheese and the grilled salmon with pearl onions, bacon and — yes, Brussels sprouts.

The grilled salmon at the BoatHouse in Canton

The grilled salmon at the BoatHouse in Canton

The BoatHouse opened last spring in the former Bay Cafe space, following a $1.1 million renovation. You can see the handiwork of SM+P Architects, who designed a warm, clean, modern space. Their other restaurant projects include Canton’s Verde and Hampden’s Woodberry Kitchen and The Food Market.

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The Milton Inn debuts new lounge and small plates menu

The Milton Inn in Sparks added a new casual lounge and small plates menu this month to the Northern Baltimore County restaurant.

A total of 26 dishes are on the menu, including blackened catfish étouffée, French onion soup, clams casino and lobster, bacon mac and cheese. Guests can choose one, two or three courses and pair the dishes with wine, for between $12 and $57. The restaurant is offering the menu  Monday through Friday for lunch and seven days a week for dinner.

The c. 1740 lounge seats 100, including a patio (heated and covered in the winter) and The Hearth Room. The lounge is on the first floor of the 274-year-old building.

Brian Boston owns the Milton Inn and the Highland Inn in Howard County.

The Milton Inn

The Milton Inn


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Here’s a look at the latest bar trend: Cocktails on tap

There was a time when drinking a cocktail to meant imbibing something sickly sweet and/or girly (like a Cosmo) or far too much alcohol than my 5-foot-one-inch frame can withstand. So I stuck with my fume blancs, malbecs and cabernets.

Well the explosion of craft cocktails changed my perspective. I now peruse a restaurant’s cocktail selection even before I scan the wine list. There’s so much time and thought that goes into these complex flavors. Bartenders are now like modern-day alchemists.

Of course, mixing these complex craft cocktails takes time and on a busy Saturday night, it helps to have a shortcut. In comes cocktails on tap — premixed cocktails that come out of a barrel or tap (similar to beer). I spoke with manager and/or bartenders at Bookmakers Cocktail Club in Federal Hill; Downtown Baltimore’s B&O American Brasserie; Mount Vernon’s Ware House 518 (formerly Creme Restaurant & Lounge); Canton’s Fork & Wrench and Of Love and Regret; and, Harbor East’s Wit & Wisdom for this Baltimore Sun story.

Bookmakers Cocktail Club in Federal Hill

Bookmakers Cocktail Club in Federal Hill

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