Saturday, July 17, 2010

2010.02.14 Kali's Court

For Valentine's Day, we double-dated with another couple for dinner at Kali's Court in Fells Point. Located at the end Thames Street just past The Sound Garden, Kali's has a reputation for seafood and atmosphere and was a good choice for the occasion.

The restaurant has a courtyard that buffers it from the street. It has every appearance of being a prime dining location in the warmer months. On our visit, it was covered in snow from the recent blizzard. Large candles were embedded in the snowbanks, creating a feeling of transition from the busy cobblestone street to a more intimate setting. 

The entryway to Kali's was separated from the dining room by a large curtain. While the entryway was small, the hostess was quick and efficient in confirming our reservation and directing us to the bar. We arrived early and had some time to wait for our friends. When they arrived, a table ready for us, and we were seated immediately. The only issue was transferring our bar tab to the dinner tab. We were instructed to settle up before moving to dinner.

The interior of the restaurant retains many elements of what was most likely the original structure. Rather than gutting the building for one large dining room, Kali's consists of several smaller rooms. This helps muffle the general chatter of the restaurant and creates the sense of intimacy they are known for.

We were seated in one of these smaller rooms on the second floor. The table was large enough to accompany both couples. We were soon greeted by our server who ensured we had water before reviewing the menu with us.

The menu presents three courses consisting of appetizers, salads and entrees. Kali's features a wide variety of seafood appetizers and entrees, as well as lamb and steak. Our server described the varieties of fish we were unfamiliar with and made recommendations, which tended toward standard Baltimore fare: calamari, a crab and artichoke phillo puff, a pear and walnut salad, and the crab cakes. We opted for two appetizer platters: shellfish and smoked fish. 

The shellfish platter featured one serving each of crayfish gnocchi, a fish and corn fritter, and the aforementioned crab and artichoke puff. Of the three, the gnocchi was the strongest, consisting of small, potato-filled pasta in a light sauce with pieces of crayfish. The fish fritter had a nice flavor but was a little bland for my tastes. The crab and artichoke phillo puff was average and the weakest of the appetizers.

The smoked fish platter featured slices of smoked salmon with capers and red onion, a smoked rockfish and potato cake, and a dollop of smoked whitefish. The rockfish cake was also a little bland. The delicate slices of salmon had a nice fish flavor that the smoking process seemed to augment rather than mask. The crowning grace was the whitefish. Smooth and creamy, it was also smoked to perfection and melted in my mouth.

We all ordered salads. Gareth and I both had the tuna nicoise. Our friends had the tomato and feta salad, and the recommended pear and walnut salad. The presentation was remarkable. Kali's also owns a tapas restaurant and allows a certain influence to carry over. The salad nicoise had all the requisite components, but were in miniature and arranged on an oblong plate. The hard-boiled egg was nestled on a delicate bed of baby greens mixed with a mustard vinaigrette. The tuna was shaped into a small cake, the asparagus was bundled and wrapped with a scallion slice. The salad was rounded out by a dollop of black olive tapanade and the requisite pickled potato. The separation of the various elements was attractive to the eye and tasted exceptional. Our friends were also impressed with the tomato and feta salad. A mountain of fresh tomatoes and cubes of feta tossed in a vinaigrette, it was flawlessly executed.

Our entrees were a mix of fish and meat, with the men opting for the rack of lamb, while I ordered the bouillabaisse and my friend chose the crabcakes. Our server assisted in selecting a bottle of Spanish red wine that went well with all three entrees.

The bouillabaisse was bland and a little flat in my opinion. The shrimp was tender and sweet and worked best with the tomato base. The clams were small, and the lobster was cut in half lengthwise. While this made for a remarkable presentation, the flesh was difficult to remove from the shell with the seafood fork that was provided. The broth also contained a firm fish and a drier fish. I am not sure what the former was, but it was meaty and full-flavored with the same sweetness as the shrimp. The latter was an over-dry shark that bordered on sandy. Unfortunately, this was in greater abundance than any other fish. The broth was full of celery, onions and peppers. Missing, though, was olive oil and wine which would have added the expected richness to the entree. Served with a single slice of toasted baguette, it could have also benefited from more bread.

The rack of lamb was exceptional. My husband ordered it rare, and it was seared on the outside and tender and pink in the middle. It had a buttery, melt-in-the-mount quality of a good cut of meat. The potatoes that accompanied the meat were deemed potato perfection by the men. The potato was thinly sliced and layered with a butter and olive oil mix, then roasted until the layers were almost fused and a golden crust formed on the exterior.

Dinner was concluded with coffee and dessert. The coffee was a light roast, which was a welcome change to the heavy dark roasts I have often received in Baltimore restaurants. We ordered the pistachio custard, the vanilla creme brulee, and the amaretto cheesecake. The pistachio custard was sweet without being too rich or heavy and went down easy after the large meal. Everyone was satisfied.

Overall, the service was attentive and well-paced without being obtrusive. We were not rushed during the meal, and were allowed to linger for an amazing three hours. When ready to leave, our payment and exit were handled with the same quick efficiency as our arrival. We all agreed that Kali's Court lives up to its reputation and that we would be returning.

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