I love elegant space that is used in a unique and artsy way; in fact, my favorite spaces are when the designer and curator carefully blend classic and creativity in a way that soothes your soul while enlivens it at the same time. Rare. While the upscale bistro-like restaurant Magdalena in Baltimore’s Ivy Hotel may not shout “5 star experience” when you first enter, it does give the appearance of an upscale but casual restaurant where perhaps the food speaks louder than the need for ornate silver and crystal glasses.
One of the things I immediately noticed after giving the place my quick 360 degree glance upon arriving was their attention to detail. Our waiter albeit young, was passionate and eager to please, the way service should be — anticipating your needs before you have them. He already knew about my low carb restriction for this trip however Anthony was a little more lenient than I was and couldn’t help to devour the Valrhona chocolate and raspberry tart with almond ice cream, which we didn’t anticipate on tasting at the beginning of our meal. It was so delicious that I thought I’d start with a visual of the end of the meal before I take you through the courses. It might just entice you enough to keep reading…
Fresh is there as is refined, both from the presentation and taste. While the below concoction might throw you a bit, especially when I tell you that it’s a Greek Salad. For the traditional among you, this presentation might be too much of a stretch. Chef Mary Levy uses a clear tomato jelly (apparently he takes the skins off) and then serves it with a goat cheese bonbon and black olive crouton.
While I’m up for any unique variation of a classic dish, even one as simple as a salad, I’m such a “greens” fan that my only beef with it was there weren’t enough greens for me. Not having enough greens regardless of where I go before or after an appetizer makes me cranky at times. That said, when I asked for more greens, they obliged, so here’s my best bit of advice. Order the outrageous even if it pushes your buttons and if your palette craves more of or less of something you need to have for the evening, order it on the side. It solves your craving problem while allowing you to try something original and unique that only the chef from that particular restaurant has carefully prepared just for you.
Before the salad even hit the table, we both had an orgasmic ten minutes with the ever so delicious carrot curry soup — just enough of every distinct flavor to make it pop in your mouth and forget about the world for awhile. Oddly enough, Car Wash was playing in the background while we sipped on this delicious perfect soup mix and yet it still put me in a dreamy mood. It’s amazing what incredible cooking can do not just to your tastebuds but your mood regardless of what music is playing in the background. It’s the sign of a well-trained and sophisticated chef.
Mark Levy apparently worked at five-star resort The Point, based in the Adirondacks before opening the Magdalena, which was ironic since we were planning to hit the Adirondacks after leaving Baltimore for a little over a week, so were thrilled that someone who cooked that well was dishing out gems like this in the same mountain range where Anthony and I grew up.
We played around with a selection of fish dishes given our interest in staying with white wine all night, starting with the Cherry Wood Salmon, served with a Jumbo Lump Crab Salad, Yuzu, Cucamelons and Asian Pear.
Then, we moved onto a Fillet of Bronzini (YUM!!) with lardo roasted potatoes and wild mushrooms served in a tomato and shallot sauce…..other seafood dishes worth mentioning include the Filet of Wild Rockfish with crab crushed potatoes, cauliflower puree, curry oil and caper-raisin dressing, and the Seared Maryland Day Boat Scallops (below), with English Pea-Rice Grits, Thumbelina Carrots and American Caviar Dressing.
Now, before I move onto the funky ambiance, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that if it weren’t for my low carb restriction, I would have absolutely ordered the Maine Lobster Ravioli appetizer with pickled fennel and lemongrass bisque and the House Cured Hudson Valley Duck Ham with local peach chutney and foie gras stuffed Yorkshire Pudding (OMG!! I’d return for a taste of that creation alone). And, did I mention the Risotto with Australian Truffle, English Peas, Chanterelles and Crispy Poached Egg?
We paired our seafood dishes with Anabella Chardonnay from Napa, a Domaine Pichot Vouvray from France and a Moulin des Vrilleres Rose from Sancerre. All delish!
The restaurant wasn’t busy when we were there since it was midweek although there were a few tables within our view so I was able to see a few other dishes enter the dining room while we waited for ours, all while Chicago was playing in the background…..”I will remember, take me back to the world gone away, memories seem like yesterday…..” Of course, this brought Anthony and I far back in time, which was no grave surprise given the conversation about Levy’s time in the Adirondacks, Chicago running through our ears not to mention later on, the Spinners, with the Jacksons and Elton John’s Rocket Man coming over the airwaves before our evening ended.
It may very well have been Elton John who sung sweetly to me while I sipped my decaf, Anthony went to town on his chocolate dinner ending and I partook in a combination of Cremant cheese from Vermont, a Greyson from Virginia and the Mountain Top Blue Goat Cheese from Maryland. It was served on a fun platter with truffled honey walnuts, apricots and crackers and if I recall I happily finished all of it except for the carb-rich crackers of course. Even though I skipped the crackers, I did in fact try their scrumptious sweet soy butter and loved it so much I wished we could have taken some home, which that evening was the equally artsy Kimpton property, Hotel Monaco.
This upscale casual space in the downstairs basement of the Ivy Hotel has several small dining rooms, where the personality changes as you migrate from one to the next. It seemed as if we were in the main seating room, which also housed the bar. A perfect room to take over if you head to Magdalena with a group would be the one lined with wine racks, so you could pretend for a few hours that you were deeply buried in the French cellar surrounded by old world Bordeaux on all sides.
It’s the art and the wall murals that make you think twice about what kind of place it is or wants to be, and is interesting enough to spend a little extra time wandering through before or after dinner. Let’s just say that we played a bit before leaving. How could you not with curtains, walls and paintings like this? Bring it on.
Magdalena Restaurant (in the Ivy Hotel)
205 E. Biddle Street
Baltimore, MD 21202