When a chef leaves a restaurant, it's usually not a good sign. The chef is either leaving because the place is about to close, there is a "disagreement" with the owners, or they've gotten a better job, leaving the restaurant in the lurch.
Luckily none of those scenarios applied to Fleet Street Kitchen (1012 Fleet St.,  244-5830, fleetstreetkitchen.com). Chris Becker, the original chef at FSK, was promoted to executive chef of the entire Bagby Restaurant Group, which owns FSK, a few months ago, and Chris Amendola took the helm of FSK. Under Amendola, formerly of Blue Hill at Stone Barns near White Plains, N.Y., the restaurant has continued its seasonal farm-to-table tradition while silently becoming one of the best places in Baltimore for charcuterie and offal.
FSK is a handsome restaurant decorated in understated umbers and classic design elements. We were taken aback at the restaurant's TARDIS-like ability to be much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. A small front dining room (where we sat) opens into a decorous bar, and past it a pair of steps swoops up into a spacious main dining room. The open kitchen gives the elegant room a needed dose of frenetic energy.
While perusing the menu and chomping on the excellent house bread, we were offered a complimentary amuse-bouche of fresh baby carrots with a basil yogurt. Served on a piece of slate, the sweet carrots contrasted nicely with the tart yogurt. The herby basil oil dotting the yogurt added to the carrot's fragrance. The carrots were beautiful, simple, and gave us a hint of what was to come.
The appetizers came and, with them, the look and smell of early summer. Egg yolk ravioli ($13) was a delicate affair of maitake mushrooms, grilled asparagus, chicken jus, and Parmesan plated around two still-runny egg yolks enveloped in thin sheets of pasta. The asparagus and mushrooms with Parmesan accentuated the umami flavor while the yolks tied the dish together in a velvety knot. The spring onion soup ($12) was light and airy while staying grounded from the cream cheese, sour cream, and bacon in it. Garlic confit helped to round out the sweet-and-sour presentation while the Maryland blue crab was superfluous, totally lost in the brightness of the soup.
The crispy pork belly ($12) was the best I've had in Baltimore. The belly itself was cured in way that mimics a country ham, except this ham is pillowy soft on the inside and caramelized on both sides, with the skin side being crispy to the point of resembling meaty hard candy. A sous vide egg held at 65 C for a few hours sidled up next to the belly, relaxing in a nest of buttered toast powder (fancy lingo for buttered bread crumbs). It was a wonderful plate of food and something I wish I could eat every morning for breakfast.
The charcuterie plate ($16) showed off a devotion to nose-to-tail cooking by using meat from pigs raised at Cunningham Farms (a farm owned and operated by the Bagby group). Whipped lardo on brioche, pork rillets, liverwurst, rabbit pate, porchetta di testa, and a great giant pork rind was beautifully arranged on a board with melange of house-cured pickles, mustard, and apricot jam. The addition of a few nasturtium flowers gave an interesting citrus kick to the expertly made charcuterie. Speaking of pork, the bar at FSK has a running "Pigs Face and Pickles" menu where you can get house-made offal running the gamut of prepared pig products. We tried the crispy ears ($7) and the snout ($9). They came with pickled vegetables and were insanely good. I can't wait to go back and try the rest of that menu. If you've never had offal, here is the place to start.
The drinks at FSK were just as summery as the food. The buttercup ($11) was gentle and clean, with a mix of pisco, laurel (bay leaf) syrup, pressed apple cider, lime juice, and egg white. The refreshing drink played well with the food. Also complementing the food was the Fleet Street gimlet ($11). Plymouth gin and the house lime cordial formed a balanced libation that cut through the fattier dishes like the pan roasted pork ($30).
Diverse cuts from the leg of a Cunningham Farms pig were cooked medium with white beans, grilled scallions, and confit bacon. Anointed with herb sauce and pork jus, the pork was superb, but I couldn't help thinking that it was a bit overpriced. The seared rockfish ($30) was cooked crisp on both sides but flaky and soft throughout. It was a perfect piece of fish. The spinach shellfish stew that it rested upon was complementary to the fish but looked a mess. The spinach puree, which tasted fine, made the stew look like a small swamp.
A couple of pastry chef Bettina Perry's confections topped off our meal, starting with the lemon thyme cake ($9). The green cake was moist and had good texture to it, and the lemon cream stressed its herbaceous qualities. Smoked honey caramel and honey-milk sherbet on top added sweetness to the cake. The chocolate palette ($10) ended our meal with a deep chocolatey ganache topped with soft and sweet rhubarb. The chocolate crumbs lent a fun texture to the smooth ganache while the vanilla froth added extra intricacy to the earthy chocolate. It was a fine way to end a special meal.
Fleet Street Kitchen is a restaurant that cares about what they cook, how they cook it, and when they cook it. They are as close to a perfect restaurant as you'll find in our great city, with fancy food, beautiful decor, and a gracious wait staff. I can't wait to go back and belly up to the bar for a big plate of pig parts and a stiff drink.
Fleet Street Kitchen is open Monday to Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.