ST. MICHAELS - It seemed a little early in the year for fried green tomatoes. But then again, these were not your everyday fried green tomatoes. They were the cultured kind, the type that keeps company with crabmeat, lobster and curry. Man, were they good.
They were part of the second course of a dinner prepared by Baltimore chef Cindy Wolf, who had journeyed to the Eastern Shore to collaborate with chef Michael Rork at his Town Dock Restaurant in St. Michaels. The four-course meal, with matching wines, was part of the St. Michaels Food & Wine Festival, a weekend of culinary adventures that drew hungry crowds to St. Michaels and Tilghman the weekend of April 30.
Rork, who for eight years was executive chef at the Harbor Court Hotel, left Baltimore in 1994 to run his own restaurant in St. Michaels. That was just about the time that Wolf arrived in Baltimore from South Carolina. Wolf and her husband, Tony Foreman, went on to open three Baltimore restaurants, Petit Louie, Charleston and Pazo.
Wolf said that it takes a lot to get her away from her restaurants on a Saturday night but when Rork invited her, she quickly accepted.
"Michael was a great inspiration for a lot of Baltimore chefs and he is a nice man," she said.
As for cooking styles, Rork said, "Both of us use a lot of fresh ingredients." Wolf, he said, is especially adept at cooking Southern dishes. She planned the menu. "I was her sous-chef for the night, helped her plate up," Rork said.
While it takes a lot to pry me out of my Barcalounger on a Saturday night, when I got wind of this chance to eat a meal prepared by these two talents, I was headed over the Bay Bridge before you could say, "Thank the Lord for E-Z Pass." The meal, served in the glassy restaurant that overlooks the Miles River, was well worth the trip.
It started off with a bicolored soup that gave twin billing to bright-green sweet peas and cream-colored roasted corn. Even though the creamy soup was composed of equal parts of the two vegetables, it was designed so that never the twain would meet. The two cream soups were prepared separately then simultaneously poured into individual bowls.
The bicolor soup bowl was supposed to be a two-part eating experience. "The beauty of this soup is tasting one ingredient, then the other," Wolf said. Mixing the two would, she said, diminish the taste experience. Or as she put it: "No swirling."
She told diners this after the meal, after I had swirled the soup. Even though the colors of my soup were mixed, the soup's pure vegetable flavors were exceptional. I also swirled my glass of wine, a California chardonnay, Neyers 2002 Carneros. It made me reconsider my usual anti-chardonnay stance. By the second glass, that stance had dissolved.
Next came the fried green tomatoes served with a "hash" made of diced lobster and crabmeat. Technically, the sliced tomatoes, coated in cornmeal and flavored and cooked in peanut oil, served as the "sandwich breads" that framed the crab-and-lobster mixture.
The "hash" consisted of diced lobster and crabmeat, Yukon gold potatoes, homemade mayonnaise, fresh lemon and curry. The plate this sandwich was served on was "painted" with bright green oil made of pulverized chives.
"The perfect bite," Wolf told me later, "is when you get a bite of everything." I took several such bites. It was bliss.
These lively curry and crab flavors were heightened by a glass of Louis Roederer nonvintage Brut Premier champagne. From now on, I plan to have a little bubbly every time I eat a fried green tomato.
The meat course was lamb served three different ways. A tenderloin had been soaked in a marinade of oil, tahini and a touch of chili pepper, then quickly grilled. It was heaven.
A lamb shank had been braised for five hours, until it was falling-from-the-bone tender. Its stock was used to flavor some remarkable Carolina Gold Rice, a rice Wolf said she gets from a Southern purveyor who also keeps her in grits.
A crisp, peppery sausage was the third taste of lamb, and it was a strong one. A big Spanish red wine, a 2001 Ribera del Duero, Emilio Moro, stood up to the strong competition.
After polishing off dessert - a torte with cinnamon whipped cream - the crowd of 60 gave Wolf; her assistant, Michael Franey; and Rork a standing ovation.
Leaving the restaurant I felt satisfied, sated and larger than life. Just how much larger became apparent later that night when I checked my weight and calculated my body mass index, using those height and weight tables that have recently been in the news.
My calculations showed that I was either going to have to get several inches taller or walk back to Baltimore.