Pampered in Baltimore: 4Bitten Goes to 4Seasons
Located about 45 miles outside of DC, Baltimore seems far to a native Washingtonian like myself, but it’s a straight shot up 95N and it’s worth the drive to enjoy the inner harbor on a nice summer afternoon. In my heyday, we partied in B’more as a change of pace to being in the District, but it’s been a while since I’ve been back. I must say that spending time at the luxurious Four Seasons hotel is nothing like slummin’ in Fells Point. When the opportunity presented itself, the ladies of 4Bitten Media (or in this case 3Bitten), including myself, Mary of Girl Meets Food and Johnna of Johnna Knows Good Food, we took full advantage — and we jet-setted out of town in our new 2012 SUV, the GMC Terrain (aka the silver bullet) courtesy of General Motors. Complete with leather seats, sunroof, a trunk big enough for 3 adults (no we didn’t try it) and electric everything, it prefaced the next 24 hours of pure bliss. Thanks to GM, we drove up to Charm City in style.
From DC we arrived to the stunning Four Seasons Baltimore (200 International Dr.) in under and hour, (the speed limit is just a guideline) slightly before our check-in time. Preston at the front desk graciously agreed to hold our bags and made a courtesy call to let us know when our rooms were ready. We were impressed already with their service — all guests were treated like VIPs. Everything about this luxurious urban retreat makes you feel like you’re in paradise, from the wonderful fragrance of star-gazer lilies (my favorite flower) in the lobby, to the stunning waterfront views, to the world-class customer service. We kept having to stop and pinch ourselves in disbelief that we were in Baltimore and not the Caribbean.
The new Four Seasons in Baltimore’s Harbor was their first East Coast opening in a decade, since their initial collaboration with celebrated chef Michael Mina, having opened BOURBON STEAK at the Four Seasons Hotel Georgetown in 2008. Launched in late spring, the Four Seasons Baltimore features three distinct Michael Mina food and beverage concepts and I am confident that it will be just as successful as the Georgetown resort.
Our first stop was PABU (725 Aliceanna St.), one of the Four Seasons Baltimore concepts created by Mina in collaboration with Ken Tominaga of Hana Sushi in Northern California. It offers a modern take on traditional Izakaya-style dining featuring small plates, grilled items from the exposed robata grill, as well as, sushi and sashimi. We were invited to join Tiffany Dawn Soto, Master Sake Sommelier or kikzake-shi, for “The Art of Sake,” an introductory class and tasting to learn the basics of sake. I had no prior experience with sake and unlike wine, I didn’t know what kinds I preferred and which kind of sake pairs best with various dishes. I felt quite fortunate that I was learning from the best of the best.
After taking Tiffany’s class, I feel a little more confident about ordering Sake while dining out. Here’s a crash course: understanding the different sake preparation and quality grades is critical to know when ordering. Sake Grades: Junmai, which means ‘pure’ a simple sake made of rice, water, yeast & koji (type of mold spore that converts starch into sugar) and Honjozo, a five ingredient sake that has heightened aromatics. After grade, the next important thing to know is the quality designation: Ginjo, which is the 2nd highest level of sake quality produced using rice that has 40% of the grains are milled away. Next Daiginjo, which is the highest level of sake quality and is produced using rice that had a minimum of 50% of the grains are milled away.
Lastly, other important designations include various methods of filtration, such as Genshu, which means it’s undiluted (close to 19% alcohol content), Nama, which means unpasteurized and has to be treated carefully such as stored and transported cold. It’s good to know Koshu, which means aged sake and can be very expensive. Those counting calories will want to steer clear of Nigori sake as it is often up to 12 times the calorie content of normal sake. Nigori means “loosely” filetered and are often cloudy. We sampled 5 different sake, each to help identify with the various preparation and quality grades. So which was my favorite sake? I liked the Junmai Daiginjo best. It was most similar to a sweet crisp Riesling, which I love.
With PABU having the highest allocation of sake in the nation and boasting three bottles of Koshu (aged sake) a year, Pabu is the best possible place on the East coast to enjoy high quality sake. If you’re looking to learn about sake from the kikzake-shi, the classes are just $25 and take place on the 2nd Saturay of each month through the end of the year. The following Tuesday put your knowledge to the test with a sake tasting dinner that is just $75 per person. If you register for both the price is just $90. Tell them Dining in DC sent you! Kanpai!
We had reservations that same evening to return to PABU for dinner, but after our sake class, all we could think about was getting our bikinis on and heading to the pool. Checking into our rooms, we were practically giddy about how beautiful everything was. The beds were plush, the room was spacious, clean and modern. The bathtub and shower were both huge and luxurious, definitely big enough for two (hubba hubba!). In fact, in just 24 hours, I found a way to use both! Some of the most memorable things about the room were the Mirrorvision TV (TV built into the bathroom mirror!) and even the L’Occitane soap. I loved it. I could have moved in.
My absolute favorite part about the entire trip was the Four Seasons infinity-edge pool – truly an urban oasis with full bar, poolside menu designed by Michael Mina, luxurious cabanas, hot tub jacuzzi pool, and the most hospitable staff I’ve ever encountered waiting on you literally hand and foot. At any given moment, a staff member, like Jordan, a preppy twenty-something that says he wants to visit Bora Bora, will bring you ice chilled water flavored with fresh fruit, like lime or orange, a fresh fruit kabob, or even frozen flavor ices (the kind from when you were a kid!). We were served our lunch poolside on an individual tray that stands up over your lap, reminiscent of a mother’s day breakfast in bed. Pure heaven! My fish tacos were quite expensive ($18) but well worth it in the end. The service is impeccable.
Sadly, we needed to say goodbye to the pool for the day and make our way to get ready for dinner at PABU, (Japanese phonetic translation of pub) with a decor of clay pottery, bamboo ceilings, sake bottles, wooden tables provides rustic, old-world japanese charm yet with modern, urban sophistication featuring sweeping views of Baltimore’s inner harbor. Mina’s brand new Izakaya-style restaurant features a menu of small plates, grilled items from the robata grill, and of course sushi and sashimi, perfect for sharing. Of the Hot Small Plates, the Maitake and Seasonal Vegetable Tempura had a light, golden crispy batter that enhanced the natural flavors of the vegetables and the Papa Weaver Farm Pork Shumai (Japanese Steamed Dumpling) were piping hot, pillows with tender, thin skin and a moist, smoky flavorful filling.
Of the Robatayaki selections, the Kokoro, sake-cured chicken heart was very interesting, certainly something I’ve never eaten before. The Prime Skirt Steak with black pepper garlic soy was more flavorful than the Pork Belly, surprisingly since the pork belly was fatty and had rich smoky flavor.
Luckily I left room for dessert, the Sundae with pineapple green tea ice cream, with fresh strawberries and honey gelee that add texture and whimsy purple round hibiscus meringue crisps is highly unsuspecting until you dive in. The green tea ice cream is so light and refreshing you hardly notice that you inhale the whole bowl.
The next morning, we had brunch at one of other three dining concepts at the hotel, WIT & WISDOM, the hotel’s signature restaurant which offers American cuisine, inspired by the Mid‐Atlantic region and focused on the Eastern seaboard’s culinary heritage. Our brunch was so incredible, it deserves its own post! Stay tuned!
I am already vying to return to the Four Seasons … and I’m sure after reading this you are too!