Ivy Hotel - Magdalena Restaurant

Magdalena is an upscale bistro with a highly respected British chef who cooked at the Relais & Chateaux The Point, in upstate New York. The chef, Mark Levy, has been persuaded to come to Baltimore. I am very impressed with the potential that his cuisine demonstrates.

The restaurant is on the ground floor of the beautiful downtown boutique hotel, The Ivy, and is broken into relatively small eating spaces, with one adjacent to the bar, a second more private venue down a hallway and a gorgeous private room in the wine cellar. The menu is somewhat limited at this point, but our dining party sampled at least two-thirds of the dishes that were available that evening, and everything was terrific. On tasting a friend's crispy Berkshire pork belly, I thought that it might be the 100-point dish on the menu, although there were others I would have liked to have tried. Certainly I'll be going back. I loved everything about the restaurant - the intensity of flavors, the creativity and, obviously, the high-quality products that Chef Mark Levy is using.

It's hard for someone from outside the region to get Chesapeake softshell crabs perfect, but I loved his take on them, with an emulsion of herbs and butter on top of the beautifully crisp sauteed soft shell crabs. The confit of duck and slow-cooked quail was gorgeous, as was the Ballotine of chicken.

As for the wines, we started with a champagne from their wine list, which is very well chosen, with impressive quality and reasonable prices. The 2004 Dom Ruinart Champagne Blanc de Blancs is one of my favorite champagnes at the moment. This wine shows brioche, caramelized grapefruit and apple skin, with a hint of more exotic, tropical fruit. It is dry, intense and beautifully made. We then moved to a quartet of Bordeaux from my cellar. The 1989 Clinetis still an outstanding wine, but it certainly seems to have fallen off its pedestal over the last two years, and no longer is the compelling and profound wine it once was. The 1990 La Conseillante is still holding beautifully. It seems fully mature and not likely to get much better, but boy, is it a beauty, with notes of licorice, mulberry, blueberry and raspberry fruit soaring from the glass. It has a supple, silky texture and lush fruit. Two perfect wines are probably no surprise - pristine bottles that I have had in the cellar since 1985 of the 1982 Latour and 1982 Mouton Rothschild. These wines made for a brilliant competition. The Mouton Rothschild is still the younger of the two, as it always seems to be. However, the Latour is majestic, complex and one of the all-time great Latours I have ever tasted, reminding me of a modern-day version of their 1961. It has classic crème de cassis, forest floor, a touch of truffle and earth in a full-bodied, opulent style that is remarkably satisfying on both hedonistic and intellectual levels. The slightly denser purple 1982 Mouton Rothschild seems to have come out of its adolescent state, but still seems like a young wine. It has gorgeously pure crème de cassis, floral notes and full-bodied power and richness. 1982 was a watershed vintage for my career, yet it is difficult to believe these wines are 33 years of age!

All together, this is a welcome new restaurant to the Baltimore culinary scene and Chef Mark Levy exhibits serious talent. The entire hotel and restaurant staff and their impeccable service seem to have a large upside/very high ceiling.

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