Magdalena Restaurant – The Ivy Hotel (July 2016)

I have eaten at least a half-dozen meals at this small, boutique restaurant inside the exquisite and relatively modest Ivy Hotel in midtown Baltimore. Chef Mark Levy, in less than a year, has established himself as possibly Baltimore’s most creative and interesting chef de cuisine—even eclipsing the great Cindy Wolf at the downtown Charleston address, where she has held top honors in the culinary world for nearly two decades. Levy’s cooking is full-flavored and incredibly imaginative. His genius combinations of disparate ingredients and innovative use of anything from pea tendrils to Asian spices works wonders with his cooking, which is simply magical. This meal was clearly Michelin three-star quality, starting with his brilliant Shooting Point oysters from Virginia, and amazing ceviche in the Peruvian style with scallops and octopus, followed by the course of the night: the open ravioli of rabbit and foie gras with truffle butter, tiny Mt. Rainier cherries and pea tendrils. This was a 100-point dish if there ever was one. Close in quality was the seared rare filet of tuna with marinated octopus, which was incredibly tender and flavorful. Several dishes ordered by my guests also looked amazing, including the corn and Carolina shrimp risotto and pork cheek and chanterelle omelette with truffle brie, which I had a chance to taste (my wife ordered it), and it was spectacular.

We started with their house Rosé champagne, the NV Billecart-Salmon Rosé Champagne, which is always consistent and excellent, and then moved to several selections from our cellars. The 2009 Château Beaucastel Roussanne Vieillies Vignes, from 50-year-old vines of Roussanne, is the greatest vintage I have ever tasted of this wine, and I have tasted since it was first made in 1986. This has Montrachet-like richness, an incredible nose of honeysuckle, orange marmalade, big and exotic flowers and spices. The wine is at that peak of perfection and it would be hard to believe it could get any better and more compelling than it is already. We then moved to a young, youthful magnum of Clos Saint Jean’s limited cuveé of ancient-vine Grenache (available only in magnums), the 2007 Clos Saint Jean Châteauneuf Du Pape Sanctus Sanctorum. This comes from their best old-vine plots, and is organically farmed and aged in neutral containers until being bottled with no fining or filtration. An extraordinary, quintessential expression of old-vine Southern Rhône Grenache, with loads of kirsch and blacker fruits, amazing full body, unctuous texture, incredible purity, depth and richness. This wine clearly hits 16%+ alcohol, but is as delicate and light on its feet as one could hope for, showing how Grenache seemingly can hide its power.

All in all, a marvelous evening of dazzling wines, food and company.

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