Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Talara: A Concept Baltimore Long Needed

After 274 Unique Culinary Adventures posts, my blogging focus over the past year and a half has been far removed from delectable culinary esoterica. Rather, it's been about the hobby of mineralogy. Regardless, my interest in the former has in no way diminished, and I've missed being in the thick of everything.

Unique Culinary Adventures needed a push, and it came last week. What can I say when an operation like Nakturnal bestows the honor of shooting me an email out of the blue entitled, "Love 'Unique Culinary Adventures Blog! Can we Partner?" The only requirement was to enjoy a complimentary "tasting" at Talara.

Obviously Nakturnal's Charli Bales had read enough of our posts to have noted that ceviche was a favorite topic. Little did she know, however, that independently of blogging, I'd been hounding people in the restaurant business for over 20 years about the need for a ceviche bar in Baltimore. Finally, late last summer, one arrived when Talara opened its doors at the southeast corner of Fleet and President Streets. It didn't take me long to get to this instant hotspot with its multiple ceviche offerings and wonderful drinks. Of course, Talara is more than that. Nuevo Latino is the larger concept, with emphasis on tapas, especially ceviche.

The layout makes for quite a scene. Within a single neon lit space enclosed by floor to ceiling windows and walls featuring Cuban art are two bars, extensive counter seating, and plenty of both normal tables and high-tops. From the latter, patrons can observe everything from the preparation of ceviche to the crowd inside and out.

As for "bedidas," Mrs. Yi and I consumed between us over the course of the evening a blood-orange margarita, a caipirnha, a cucumber mojito, and a pisco sour. I've tried all these drinks at the relatively few other spots in town that offer them, and never enjoyed them more than at Talara. Also available is a good selection of beers and wines, plenty which are Spanish or Latino. Even better, during Talara's Baltimore Happy Hour, cocktails are priced at $5, a glass of wine is $4, and a beer $3. In addition, comes a happy hour menu of $5,00 tapas, including two of the selections we most enjoyed at our dinner (Shrimp and Tropical Fruit Seviche and Salmon Asian Tartare on Sushi Rice). Best of all is the happy hour time frame: from 4 to 7 Monday through Friday, and---get this---10 p.m. until 1 a.m. on Saturday night.

For both Mrs. Yi and me, the culinary highlight of dinner was a "seviche sampler" (spell it ceviche or seviche; either is correct). It is pictured above and features all seven seviche selections, for which patrons choose from the always fresh selection of seafoods available. The enormous variety of other ingredients comprising the various seviches are described in detail on Talara's menu. Shown clockwise from top left in the above image, we enjoyed the following:

  • Traditional seviche (crab)

  • Curried tropical fruit seviche (shrimp)

  • Asian tartare (aji)

  • Tiradito (salmon)

  • Avocado and corn seviche (diver scallop)

  • Fire and ice (conch)

  • Ginger Tataki (yellowtail)

While Unique Culinary Adventures often ignores what isn't new, undiscovered, unusual, overlooked, or forgotten, at least by local standards, Talara understands that here in Baltimore, it's good business to please as many people as possible. Even before our drinks , we were served a trio of chips (plantain, malanga, and tortilla) and salsa (black bean hummus, curried tropical fruits, and "house" (tomato et al). Then came a very basic but impossible not to like mini tostadas platter featuring chicken breast, beans, white cheese, and tomato salsa. The ceviche was next, followed by a "mid plate" (aka small entree). Mine was a wonderful filet mignon a la plancha (that means cooked quickly over very high heat on a salted griddle or iron skillet) with chimichurri sauce and accompanied by a wild mushroom saffron risotto, grilled asparagus, and Tempranillo (that's a Spanish variety of grape) demi glace. At $19 it was the most expensive item on the menu. Mrs. Yi raved about her chorizo wrapped diver scallops with roasted corn and goat cheese polenta, wilted spinach, and tamarind barbecue sauce.

Talara has introduced to Baltimore a concept that in other cities has evolved into a major culinary phenomenon. Just as when sushi first arrived here in 1980 at Shogun on Charles Street, it took a while for other players to jump into the game. That has not happened here yet. For sure, one reason why is because Talara is going to be hard to beat.

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