For the past week I have been attending a theatre conference in Baltimore and engaging in that wondrous activity—work travel dining. Work travel dining is far from vacation travel dining, which is planned to be relaxing and pleasurable, and often researched far ahead of time, making the meals themselves their own vacation events. Work travel dining is bites grabbed when a moment exists, packaged food stored in your lodgings, and mostly an endless array of hors’ dourves, pastries, and wine delivered to you by a variety of catering companies. This is not to say the food isn’t creative and tasty, but it does not make a full, rounded, and healthy diet. I dread stepping on the scale in the morning.
There were many artistic highlights on the trip, moving speakers and a group of Sudanese dancers that make beautiful art with beautiful purpose. Baltimore, despite my never making it to the lovely inner harbor neighborhood, provided some dining highlights as well.
The first evening after wandering around trying to find the downtown area (and almost ending up at a deli,) a group of us stumbled upon the lovely My Thai restaurant happy hour. Three dollar wine and sushi was an excellent and revitalizing experience after the long day of travel. The house red wine was a Malbec, a variety I have been very interested in lately. These wines often come from South America and have a nice rounded spice on the palate. As I had eaten sushi for lunch, I ordered their softshell crab special where the crab was done tempora style with a spicy sauce on the side.
The second day it was decided that drinks were called for before dinner could be dealt with so the group headed to Grand Central where the bartender gets props for pointing out the evening’s vodka special when I ordered my gimlet. The gimlet was mixed smooth and well balanced; I’ve had far too many that were like drinking a bottle of Rose’s Lime Juice. A few drinks into the evening, a few of us decided that if food didn’t happen soon then getting up for the conference in the morning
probably wouldn’t happen either. When the Mexican restaurant we tried to go to was closed (as burritos are amazing drunk food) we found Akbar, a fantastic Indian restaurant. I live in a very Indian neighborhood, but my ordering capabilities are somewhat limited. I do better buffet style, off a menu I know how to recognize the words nan and tandori and that is about it. Luckily we were with an expert orderer who introduced me to Chicken Tikka Masala, a dish that very nearly prompted a marriage proposal from our group to the chef. It was a lovely mild blend of spices, poured over yellow rice or with garlic nan dipped in. We devoured the dish entirely.
While the hors’ dourves, buffets, and glasses of wine tend to blend together in my head from the last few days, a special mention does go to the American Visionary Museum for an excellent Opening Reception. A surprising cream cheese and pesto dip, a taco salad on slivers of baguette, and even a classy re-imagination of the mini pigs in blankets were a satisfying spread amongst inventive pieces of pop art including a huge statue of the drag artist Divine. And this was all made better by the attendance of John Waters. They also served a white wine sangria that reminded me a bit too strongly of lemonade to be considered an artistic showing. If I hadn’t kept it to just one it might have been dangerous—that drink went down far too easily.
Breakfast has been, on the whole, a sad experience for me this week. I stayed in a dorm room with a kitchenette, but no dishes or cooking apparatus. I one point I tried to toast a piece of bread by just resting it on an electric burner, but all I managed to accomplish was burning a circle into the slice. I just put peanut butter on bread after that. When a breakfast spread was laid out it was not exciting—bagels no New Yorker would touch, donuts that looked squishy, and coffee that was at best sub par. Usually I stuck to the almond pastries that were tasty but not exactly a healthy way to start the day.
A sad bagged lunch was also provided on some days, but on one occasion I braved the “Historic Lexington Market” in search of sustenance. Immediately inside the door was a crab place, and since I wasn’t going to make it to the inner harbor I was determined to eat a crab product. A little background: Baltimore has just been named “Murder Capital USA” and some neighborhoods reflect this. One cannot enter Lexington Market without the feeling that it may have been a better idea to come with a group—preferably a group of large, intimidating looking men. Or a big can of mace. I made a brief attempt to explore the market before abandoning the idea and heading for that place next to the door which seemed like the best place to be. I ordered a crabcake sandwich that was served to me by what might have been the ugliest woman in the city with a unibrow that I felt could have used it’s own hairnet, but to her and the establishment’s credit, it was a very decent sandwich. Maybe next time I’ll just see if they deliver.
One of the clear highlights of the trip was the free Old Bay packets given out at the end of the conference, which, as the lovely ladies handing them out pointed out, were "the flavor of Baltimore." You don't want to know how many I fit in my suitcase...
I write this on the bus on the way back to NY, we just stopped at a rest stop where my options were Burger King or Popeye’s. I look forward to being in my own kitchen again, complete with pots and pans and a toaster. Next year’s conference is being held in Chicago, and I’m sure I can find many former favorites of the current White House resident to try before then!