Zlatko's Best Places to Eat in Baltimore -- Great Food Finds in Charm City (this site is continuously evolving; please check back periodically)

General Warning I: The "Great Recession" has not been kind to nation's restaurant business, and Baltimore's is no exception (Washington, DC, in contrast, IS an exception). Some of Zlatko's favorite places are now history, most tragically Brasserie Tatin (see below). Furtunately, several interesting newcomers have sprung up, none more promising than Meli and B (see below). When you are deciding on where to go, please call to check whether your top choice is still there. Also, many restaurants are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays. Call to make sure they are open.
General Warning II: An out-of-town visitor is often surprised by how many of the Baltimore's top food/drinking establishments have rather strict dress codes. While these codes have been steadily relaxing in recent years, it might still be a good idea to stick to a more formal attire; jackets and ties for gentlemen and dresses/skirts for ladies will always work. Also, many restaurants are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays. Call to make sure they are open.

$ -- Affordable, even by graduate students
$$ -- Moderately expensive, affordable by Ph.D. physicists' standards (even by postdocs although perhaps just at the borderline for graduate students)
$$$ -- Expensive, but still within reach of junior faculty. This is the point where a typical APS member starts going wobbly on their determination to get a great dinner.
$$$$ -- Very expensive. Tenured faculty, national and industrial research lab senior staff only.
$$$$$ -- Beyond expensive. University administrators, government and industrial executives, chaired professors at major private universities.

Downtown and Little Italy (within easy walking distance of Convention Center):

Pazo, (410) 534-7296, 1425 Aliceanna St. Map it , Moderate. Reservations are strongly suggested at this latest endeavor of Tony Foreman and Cindy Wolf—a year after opening, the heat still isn’t off this upscale tapas lounge. Small wonder, when Pazo gives Baltimore something it lacked: a dramatic, see-and-be-seen venue for the Prada set. Indeed, we suspect many of Pazo’s patrons are too busy enjoying the vast, Tuscan-inflected space, the DJ-spun club tunes, and each other’s clingy black outfits to notice how good the food is. Take our advice and ignore your server’s recommendation of three to five plates per person; two to three is more realistic, given the hearty, peasant-inspired food. Even so, it’s hard to resist the temptation to order just one more dish, whether it be the sparkling slide of fresh anchovies, or the lemon-laced smokiness of grilled octopus salad, or the simple sweet warmth of roasted almonds. For those on a budget, the $16 bottles of house red and white are a bargain. Inevitably, given the free-form nature of small-plates meals, service occasionally seems to lose its way, but never enough to mar the overall experience. With such a winning combination, we expect those crowds to keep Pazo packed for years to come.*
Zlatko's blurb: The hottest place in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. Mingle with beautiful people none of whom are physicists (but many of whom are physicians). Reservations essential or you are not getting in (unless you are going with Zlatko, of course). Great atmosphere! Tasty tapas-style food is pretty good, and better than that on occasions. Get octopus in any form, grilled sausages of any kind and try their different breads. Do not plan on having any serious physics discussions in this place. $$

Charleston, (410) 332-7373, (410) 332-8425, 1000 Lancaster St. Map it , Very expensive. When Cindy Wolf and Tony Foreman closed their landmark restaurant last year for a total overhaul of décor and menu, we wondered what Baltimore’s premier dynamic restaurant duo was thinking. Well, we’re sold. The muted interior has been transformed by rich, jewel-toned tapestry fabrics, walnut floors, and more intimately configured dining spaces. It’s like being in an elegant home—except you’ll seldom have food this fabulous in a private residence. The format, now, is an adventurous tasting menu, wherein diners choose three-, four-, five-, or six-course meals from a range of over 30 choices divided into sections like “Hot,” “Cool,” “The Season,” “Birds & Game,” etc. Sound complicated? Wait until you try to choose between, say, the salmon tartare of jewel-like cubes dotted with caviar and splashed with crème fraîche or the grilled cheese sandwich—oozing Comte cheese between slices of buttery brioche, kissed with truffle shavings. From the superlative foie gras with roasted plums to an astounding cheese course, nothing here we’ve tried has been less than wonderful. Add to that Tony Foreman’s 600-plus-bottle wine list, the deeply knowledgeable service, and these soothingly elegant new surroundings, and it’s clear that Charleston is even better than ever.
Zlatko's blurb: One of the Washington-Baltimore area five best restaurants according to the Washington Post. Zlatko agrees when it comes to food -- the service does not live up to the price. Top end traditional nouvelle cuisine with a Southern tinge. Their chowders and lobster/shrimp bisques are as good as they ever get in the New World. Great seafood. Great cheeses. Great wines. Great interior. Subpar service. Hyperexpensive. What more can one say? You need reservations, perhaps? $$$$-$$$$$

Blue Sea Grill, 614 Water Street, 410-837-7300. Map it, Expensive. Steve de Castro’s entry in the high-stakes field of local seafood restaurants is a distinctive winner that attracts casual and serious diners. Decked out like a cool blue ocean paradise, all sleek and trendy curves and aqua coloring, Blue Sea is a worthy spot for a sexy date or big-occasion dining. Start at the raw bar up front and slurp some sparkling fresh Blue Points on the half shell, or share an unctuously rich crab and artichoke dip (or, if you’re really feeling flush, some white sturgeon caviar). This isn’t bar food—it’s seduction. A daily roster of fresh catches is served up whole, filleted, or in steaks, but no matter what kind of fish or the cut, they’re models of superlative freshness and expert preparation. We’re partial to the herb-roasted salmon—this fat fish, often overcooked elsewhere, here is rich and creamy and delicately scented with herbs. More reason, then, to indulge in a ridiculously decadent side of macaroni and cheese studded with massive hunks of lobster. Service here is as finely tuned as you’d expect from a de Castro enterprise, and the wine list is a model of good choices in a range of prices. Save room for the marvelous pineapple upside-down cake gilded with crème Anglais, as sophisticated a version of this homestyle dessert as we’ve ever seen.
Zlatko's blurb: Downtown Baltimore's best seafood. Grilled swordfish, tuna steaks are a must. Cheerful, colorful crowds, even on weekdays. Across the street from Baja, a wild college student dance and watering hole (you might wish to pay a visit after dinner but beware: this is not family entertainment!). Reservations advised. Expensive but not exorbitantly so. $$$-$$$$

Aldo's Ristorante Italiano, 306 S. High Street, 410-727-0700. Map it , Expensive. Any Italian food maven will know immediately that chef/owner Aldo Vitale is from southern Italy the minute you dip into a cup of his pasta fagiole. Rich, earthy, loaded with tomatoey garlic flavor and chock full of beans, this zuppa is as authentic as it gets. Funny how Aldo's can deliver such robust peasant food and then turn around to offer a perfect dish of high-end luxury: tournedos Rossini, grilled prime filet mignon wrapped around fois gras in a black truffle and wild mushroom sauce. That's the beauty of this elegant town house in Little Italy, where excellent seasonal ingredients and a subtle hand reap lovely results, whether you're talking about standards like veal saltimbocca or another regional rarity like zuppa di pesce alla Calabrese, seafood in a rich tomato broth. Vitale's fabled wine cellar shows craftsman-like attention to detail in the same way that the woodwork throughout this lovely place crafted by Aldo himself bespeaks a love for beauty.
Zlatko's blurb: The first among several equals in the heart of Baltimore's Little Italy, Aldo's is the Baltimore's finest Italian restaurant. This is a serious Southern Italian cousine, lighter and more subtly garlicky than usual. Their pasta can be divine (the only better pasta ever had by Zlatko within the 50 miles radius was at Donatello's in DC, now sadly defunct). If you like Italian veal this is the place to go. Reservations advised. Expensive. $$$-$$$$

Vaccaro's, 222 Albemarle Street, (410) 685-4905. Map it
Zlatko's blurb: A Baltimore's legend. Words fail to properly describe Vaccaro's. An authentic Italian patiseria as was meant to be. World's number one Italian pastries according to Google. Use any excuse (i.e., you got a job offer, gave a great talk, your theory was proven wrong by experimentalists, you were denied tenure, anything) to treat yourself to their giant cannoli, bricksize tiramisu, and colossal Colosseos. Their gelatos are easily among the three best in North America (Zlatko's suggestion: baci and pistachio with whipped cream and hot fudge on a side and raspberry vanilla napoleon to share with a friend). Go early since everyone goes there after dinner and the line can stretch for a block or two. $

Attman's, Phone: 410-563-2666, Fax: 410-563-0222, 1019 E. Lombard Street. Map it
Zlatko's blurb: The King of Baltimore's Corned Beef Row. While the Row has seen better days, Attman's Deli is still the same as always -- still the best hot pastrami outside Manhattan Island. Great for lunch or take-out. Zlatko's advice: Walk in there, stand in line and when your turn comes say "Jumbo hot pastrami sandwich, on rye, with swiss and extra mustard. And a pickle". Suddenly, all will be well with the world. $

Joy America Cafe, 800 Key Highway, 410-244-6500. Map it , Expensive. Now that the Gjerde brothers have only this one restaurant on which to lavish their energies, Joy America is again a destination restaurant that can be used to impress out-of-town guests. Enjoy unique cocktails—the nontraditional juniper martini will convert even those who normally detest gin. The nouveau Latin cuisine here is as playful and unexpected as the artwork in the American Visionary Art Museum, which houses this place. A “bouillabaisse” involves coconut milk and fiery chilis; pork three ways juxtaposes the melting richness of pork belly with the firm starchiness of pozole kernels. And if you have any love for chocolate whatsoever, you owe yourself the “seven tastes of chocolate” dessert, a spectacular array of mousse and truffle, “bark” and ganache. Combine such pleasures with charming servers and a lovely view of the Inner Harbor, and you’re bound to impress those out-of-towners.
Zlatko's blurb: Ever since their wunderkind chef Peter Zimmer left for Santa Fe's Inn of the Anasazi, Zlatko has been treating the place like a crime scene. Still, for a visitor, the wild fusion cuisine that aims to recreate Zimmer's magic is undeniably impressive and the interior, within the Visionary Art Museum, is quite unique. The Cafe is on the opposite side of the Inner Harbor from the Convention Center and the views are spectacular. Call for reservations early and demand a table with a Harbor view (Zlatko's blurb, written couple of years ago, was prophetic -- the Joy never recovered from losing Zimmer and is now closed for "renovations"). $$$

Lesser but still excellent choices: Boccaccio , (410) 234-1322, 925 Eastern Ave. $$$. Great all-around Italian restaurant with Northern emphasis. Baltimore's Numero Uno until their old chef's departure in 2000, still highly recommended by Zlatko (sadly, Boccaccio closed recently, as the owner mulls his options; hopefully, they'll be back) Mc Cormick & Schmick's , 711 Eastern Ave, (410) 234-1300. $$-$$$. Top-end seafood chain delivers the goods. Highly recommended. Legal Sea Foods , 100 E Pratt St, (410) 332-7360. $$-$$$. Reliable old favorite. A few minute walk down Pratt Street from Convention Center (Legal Seafood is now expired. Zlatko does not really mourn their timely death -- Baltimore's seafood is simply better than Boston's.). Phillips Harborplace , 301 Light St, Light Street Pavilion, (410) 685-6600. $-$$$. Famous Maryland seafood establishment, succumbed to touristitis in recent years. In their defense, they are right next to the convention center, have a fast lunch counter and a bistro, a dining room still has charm, and the crab cakes are still the world's fourth best. Check if the crab dijon soup is back on the menu, the favorite from their stellar yesteryears. Try it with their hot bread rolls.

Fells Point (a 20-30 mins stroll due east from the Convention Center. Take Pratt to President, then turn right and walk east on either Eastern Av., Fleet or Aliceanna. Do not continue on Pratt all the way to Broadway -- that will take you too far north):
An old city harbor, the Fells Point is a quintessential Baltimore neighborhood. This is where Aliceanna meets Broadway Market, where yuppie bars meet old sailor joints, where industrial chic meets industrial waste, where TV cops meet on The Life On The Street and The Law and Order, where George Clooney and Christopher Plummer meet in Syriana, where Jimmy's Diner and Bertha's Mussels meet Timothy Dean's high French cuisine. The home of city's finest seafood restaurants and funkiest cafes, the Fells Point is Baltimore's Georgetown, smaller but real. No Banana Republic here.

Black Olive, 814 S. Bond Street, 410-276-7141. Map it , Very expensive. Hands down, year in and year out, this is still the place we go when we want the absolutely best fish that money can buy. Yes, this convivial, dressed-up Greek tavern is pricey, but you get what you pay for. No one can take a whole Dover sole or branzino and (with just some oil, lemon, and a pass over the wood grill) magically turn it into ambrosia like these guys do. Never has simplicity given such thrills. Take a walk with your waiter to the seafood case and pick your fish, or go for the lovely grilled rack of lamb or beef tenderloin if seafood is not your thing. Fish-lovers can get a double dose by starting with fat grilled calamari oozing with feta and manouri cheese, or massive, golf-ball-sized scallops over baby greens. Proceed to that supernal fish they’ve grilled for you. And afterward, enjoy a rich cup of Greek coffee with a traditional Greek dessert—say, baklava, or our favorite, the honey-rich homemade yogurt with fresh fruit. Oh, by the way, this place also boasts one of the absolutely best wine lists in town. Pair all of that with gracious service and you can be sure this splurge is worth every penny.
Zlatko's blurb: Baltimore's best seafood, on a par with any top seafood place anywhere (Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Miami, Vancouver, San Diego, Washington DC, Boston, St. Tropez, Paris, Monaco, Genova, Milano, Lisboa, Hvar, Dubrovnik, Crete, Puerto Vallarta, Tokyo, Seoul, Stockholm, Aspen, you name it). Mediterranean-style organic fresh fish, shrimps, scallops, octopi, etc. You choose what you want and they make it to order in real time, with religious devotion and Michelin star precision. We are yet to find anything on the menu that is not a clear winner. If you never had them before, Zlatko commands you to order their grilled brancini. If this happens to be your lucky night, top it all off with their patented baklava ice-cream (not always available!). The place is pretty small so reservations are a must. It also requires some careful navigation to locate so you are better off if you convince a native to join your party. If you don't know Zlatko, Black Olive might be the best reason to make friends with him. $$$$

Kali's Court, 1606 Thames Street, 410-276-4700. Map it , Expensive. Boasting one of the prettiest dining rooms in the area, Kali’s Court is a feast for the eyes as well as the belly. Beautiful mahogany and brickwork greet you, and the ultra-fresh seafood will keep you happy. On our last visit to Kali’s, we found heaven in a simple raw oyster plate, featuring a selection of extremely fresh and juicy bivalves. Sleek, cool Malpeques were matched with slightly richer and brinier Harris Bays. Kali’s albino anchovy salad is a highbrow break from the ubiquitous Caesar. With seafood this fresh, it’s best to opt for simpler preparations—rich sauces just detract from the featured ingredient. Wash it all down with a racy, thrilling Alsatian Riesling, a great all-round match for the night. (When more Rieslings show up on seafood wine lists, we’ll know Baltimore has arrived.) Traditional baklava rounded out our decadent visit, and we were thankful we’d parked far enough away to walk a bit and take in the atmosphere of Fells Point at night.
Zlatko's blurb: Second best Baltimore's seafood restaurant, only a subjective shade behind Black Olive. Mediterranean-style hyperfresh seafood, but with more preparation and sauces to meet American tastes. Very impressive power decor. Good place to meet for some physics business. Reservations highly recommended. $$$

Meli, 1636 Thames Street, 410-534-6354. Map it , Expensive. Meli means honey, and this sweet spot in the heart of Fells Point is abuzz with action. So much so, that it's hard to secure a seat—even if you're holding a reservation. Which must be why we spent one recent Saturday night squeezed against the bar, slurping a fancy pink drink called the Marilyn Monroe. Eventually, we gave up on the table and settled in at the bar for the long haul. Meli calls itself an American bistro, but the menu has a hint of Greek. This night, we started with seared diver scallops with honey powder and pancetta, crusted with green apple polenta and acacia honey. We always like the homemade roasted butternut squash ravioli with candied almonds, greens, and honey butter. For entrees, you'll find offerings like a duo of duck, which includes braised confit leg and duck bread pudding, and braised lamb shank, which is happily accompanied by candied bacon. Sides include sweet potato fries, grilled asparagus, and huge, delightfully crisp beer-battered onion rings. Meli offers a takeout pastry counter—handy if you're simply looking for a sweet treat!
Zlatko's blurb: Very popular, very upscale, very shi shi Kali's young nephew. Beautiful people galore. Very respectable bistro food, with some clear winners but a few losers too. Mussels are the big winners and among the best in Baltimore-Washington metro area. Stylish and surprisingly good desserts. Reservations a must. $$$

Pierpoint, (410) 675-2080, (410) 563-2855, 1822 Aliceanna Street. Map it
Zlatko's blurb: World's best crab cakes! Zlatko always wondered where would the Pierpoint' chef Nancy Longo be if she had the ambition to match her prodigious talent. Probably in New York City or Las Vegas. Perhaps it is better this way, having her every night in a small Baltimore kitchen delivering her Maryland inspired modern American cuisine. Zlatko rates her smoked Maryland crab cakes as the world's best. Get them as an entree (there is an appetizer version too) and see if you like the mustardy brussel sprout slaw that accompanies them, Ms. Longo's divine combination and the only dish ever known to make brussel sprouts edible by primates. Their Maryland seafood bouillabaisse is another sure winner (when on the menu). Also, the rack of lamb is most respectable and occasionally stunning. The Pierpoint is another two blocks farther from the Fells Point, due East on Aliceanna Street. Reservations advised. $$$

North Charles Street and Johns Hopkins neighborhood (not within a comfortable walking distance from the Convention Center. 5-20 mins by car):
North Charles Street is lined with some of the Baltimore's trendiest restaurants. They are all reasonably good but not within easy walking distance from the Convention Center. Flag a cab with few friends or get one of the natives with a car to take you there. It will be well worth your while.

Sotto Sopra, 405 N. Charles Street, 410-625-0534. Map it , Expensive. Owner and Executive Chef Riccardo Bosio always finds a way to keep things interesting at this sophisticated upscale Italian restaurant. A roster of rotating chefs directly from Italy makes the menu an ever-changing delight of Northern Italian favorites, like a tangle of stewed calamari and rapini in a light sauce of tomatoes, white wine, and capers, or the suave vitello tonnato—thin slices of cold veal in tuna-anchovy sauce. Nothing could be more decadent than the foie-gras-stuffed gnocchi with parmesan cream and truffles, or lighter than a tomato-and-basil wrapped branzino napped with champagne sauce and fried leeks. Scarf up this inventive fare in Sotto’s candlelit wood-soaked atmosphere, and do find a sexy Italian wine among the excellent offerings. Grand Marnier cheesecake may not be a traditional Italian dessert, but you’ll love it nonetheless.
Zlatko's blurb: This is where Baltimore's beautiful people used to congregate before Pazo and Vespa came to town. Many still do and for a reason: the food is actually surprisingly good and the ambiance is still there. The cuisine is Italian only in a rather general sense (for example, it is not Chinese and there is pasta on the menu) but Zlatko is not complaining. $$$

Helmand, 806 N. Charles Street, 410-752-0311. Map it , Moderate. The Helmand may well qualify as the worst spot in all of Baltimore in which to conduct an affair. Not because it isn’t good for romance: its exoticism, combined with its very reasonable prices, has made it Baltimore’s premier first-date locale for years. Nor is it because the food isn’t both worthwhile and adventurous: We love the aromatic beef-filled mantwo pastry surrounded by yellow split peas, the sweet-and-sour surprise of kaddo borawni (twice-cooked baby pumpkin with yogurt sauce), and the rich depth of the lamb lawand’s tomato sauce, with its side of creamy spinach sabzy. No, it’s not the Helmand’s quality that makes it unsuitable for clandestine liaisons; it’s the fact that pretty much everyone in town has known for years what a treasure this place is. Chances are high that you’ll run into at least one friend or acquaintance during your visit. Because of this, the gracious but efficient service tends to keep meals paced at a steady clip. But as long as you aren’t planning on lingering long while gazing deep into the eyes of someone with whom you shouldn’t be seen publicly, Helmand is still one of the best bets in town.
Zlatko's blurb: Owned by the Karzai brothers (yes, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, is their brother), Helmand is the most popular upscale restaurant in Baltimore. You must make dinner reservations by 4pm or you are not getting in (unless you are going with Zlatko, naturally). Once you get there, the reasons are obvious. Their cooking is tasty and imaginative, with just the right touch of exotica (Afghan cuisine is somewhere between Mediterranean and Indian), their wine selection is great for the price, the service is excellent, and you get a wonderful dinner at a very reasonable price. As a result, by 8 pm the place is packed to the gills: Johns Hopkins Med School glitterati with their girlfriends, Peabody Conservatory prodigies who married well, a sprinkling of academics, and the like. Get Aushak or Bowlawni as an appetizer and Mantwo (beef or vegetarian), Mourgh Challow or Seekh Kabob as an entree. Finish it off with a Turkish coffee. Zlatko rates Helmand as one of the two best restaurant deals in Baltimore. $$

Petit Louis Bistro, 806 N. Charles Street, 410-752-0311. Map it , Expensive. Petit Louis is the neighborhood restaurant of our dreams: fabulous wine list, great French bistro food, lively crowds, top-notch service. We always like to start with something rich, like the salad of frisée laced with lardons and bleu cheese and topped with a poached egg, or the estimable terrine de foie gras with toast points. The duck-leg confit is always satisfying, but traditionalists can opt for the fine version of steak frites, the crispy fries popping out from their paper cone. If a lighter meal is more your style, a simple but perfect omelette or croque monsieur may be just the thing. Be sure, though, to save room for the sinful, chocolatey pot de crème or the trio of housemade sorbets. Topped off with a glass of Beaumes de Venise Muscat, this is an excellent way to end an evening of neighborhood warmth with bon vivant.
Zlatko's blurb: Petit Louis is the second of Zlatko's two best restaurant deals in Baltimore. Both the food and the interior are a remarkably successful recreation of a Parisien bistro. If you appreciate and know French cuisine at Zlatko's amateurish level (but not, say, at the stellar expert level of someone like JHU APL's Kishin Moorjani), the blind test of almost anything from their kitchen would fool you into thinking that Paris is where you actually are. Need one say more? Go for the fish special(s), rabbit or duck anything (confit and/or poitrine de canard are typically on the menu). Unless you are a true expert, let them select wine(s) for your table. Reservations highly recommended. The place is usually packed by 8pm, mostly by a vivacious mix of Baltimore's old and new money, successful young professionals and few Hopkins types (which belong to none of the previous categories). Expensive but within reach of a typical APS member. $$$

Brasserie Tatin, 105 W University Pkwy # 105, (410) 235-7460. Map it
Zlatko's blurb: Petit Louis' successful spin-off. The decor is contemporary American but the food is still contemporary French. Frog leggs are a must and grilled lamb is quite outstanding. Their desserts are serious and well worth sampling. The service is consistently good and often better than that and the atmosphere is upscale relaxed, with just the right whiff of bourgeois refinement. The place is across the street from Hopkins (but on the opposite side of Broadview Apt. building, i.e. facing away from campus) and down the street from the Doubletree Inn at the Colonnade and thus always busy. Reservations are advised. Expensive but within reach of a typical APS member (UPDATE: Sadly, Brasserie was driven out of business by declining economy). $$$

Gertrude's, 10 Art Museum Drive, 410-889-3399. Map it , Expensive. A classy museum deserves a stylish restaurant, and Gertrude's at The Baltimore Museum of Art meets the challenge successfully. Chef/owner John Shields created a handsome oasis when he opened the restaurant, named for his grandmother, in 1998. Gertrude's sticks to regional fare and shines brightest with simple preparations. The heart of the menu is a mix-and-match listing of seafood, chicken, or steak, prepared with a choice of sauces, including a light lemon beurre blanc and a mango-chutney aioli. Add uncomplicated sides such as potatoes infused with rosemary or a tangle of apple and fennel coleslaw. Appetizers and desserts tend to be fussier, with some more successful than others. We devoured the luscious goat-cheese cheesecake and loved the appetizer of plump fried oysters. In nice weather, few Baltimore experiences are finer than eating outdoors in the sculpture garden.
Zlatko's blurb: Gertrude's did not make Zlatko's original list but it is only fair to include them now, given a steady improvement in food and service (credit squarely goes to John Shields). Located on Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus, inside the Baltimore Museum of Art building, it is currently the best place within easy walking distance of Bloomberg Center. The food is Maryland-inspired modern American; cream of crab soup and citrus bbq shrimp are surprisingly good. Also, their featured daily specials, prepared with local seasonal ingredients, are often the best choices on the menu (seasonal crabcakes are quite smashing, even by Baltimore's stellar standards). The BMA interiors and exteriors add to a great atmosphere. Zlatko says: Problem = you are in the physics building; you don't want to bother looking for a friend with a car or calling a cab but you do want a great meal. Solution = walk to Gertrude's. $$$

The Prime Rib, 1101 N. Calvert Street, 410-539-1804. Map it , Very expensive. When a restaurant is described as “old school,” it all too often is a euphemism for “mediocre and boring.” So when we need to be reminded of what “old school” really is and feel deserving of a real treat, we head to the Prime Rib. Atmosphere at The Bone (as it is sometimes known) is almost dinner club, with frosted glass accents and cushy leather chairs. Everything is suave: subdued lighting, waiters in tuxedoes, jazz piano duo that seems like it’s waiting for either Frank Sinatra or James Bond to show up and request a tune. Big cuts of meat rule the menu, but the Prime Rib is also known for serving up one of the best filler-free crab crakes in town. We love the fact that potentially staid selections like potato skins and bread pudding are done so well, so traditionally, that they serve as a reminder of what fine dining used to be. So if you’re in the mood for a steakhouse, but not for the modern corporate iteration thereof, you owe it to yourself to roll out to The Bone.
Zlatko's blurb: The Primal Rib is more like it. Nothing compares to the Baltimore original (although their Washington and Philadephia offshoots do a decent imitation). The mastodon size steaks and ribs served by dim pinkish/neonish lights that invoked romance in 1956 work at a deep genetic level to bestir impulses from the dawn of human evolution. If you've seen Ken Russell's "Altered States" you know what Zlatko has in mind. The meat is velvety and perfectly textured, their cabernets drop grown men under the table and their freshly grated horseradish will clear up your sinuses for a fortnight. There are two truly great steakhouses in the Baltimore-Washington metro area and this is one of them (the other being the DC's famed Sam & Harry's). Zlatko says: go to the Prime Rib and eat like The (original) Man (even if you are a woman). Bring a companion. $$$$

Brass Elephant, 924 N. Charles Street, 410-547-8485. Map it , Expensive. Jack Elsby and the crew at Brass Elephant have been working on their game, and it shows. Their roasted root vegetable salad features an assortment of tender fall tubers lightly dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette. Pan-seared crusted pork tenderloin is served perfectly pink in the middle, and the accompanying dried currant gastrique is a pleasant foil to the heady herbed meat. If you’re in the mood to treat yourself royally, go for the duo of lamb, a combination of lamb confit and a small rack of ribs. The unsung star of the dish is the dash of creamy polenta lurking under the confit. Desserts are generally good; if you aren’t sure, stick with the always-popular crème brûlée. The grand old interior features plenty of aged polished wood, warm lighting, and plush carpets. Like the menu, it isn’t bold and it isn’t modern, but it’s a comfortable and impressive love song to the classical, traditional approach.
Zlatko's blurb: Zlatko does not care much for the Elephant. However, even he will admit that most people find a dinner there to be a pleasurable if not memorable experience. Interior and the atmosphere are just fine. Go if you must. Expensive but within reach of a typical APS member (UPDATE: Elephant went under recently, as economy turned sour). $$$

Tapas Teatro Cafe, (410) 332-0110, 1711 N Charles Street. Map it , Moderate. Eating at Tapas Teatro can be a little challenging—not because of the food, but because the combination of built-in crowds from the neighboring Charles Theatre and a no-reservations policy can make for a long wait for a table. Once seated, however, you’re in for a treat. Start off with a pitcher of sangria as you debate the relative merits of chorizo-studded risotto cakes and oven-roasted eggplant, or Serrano ham and grilled lamb chops with rhubarb sauce. The best part is that with these small plates, you can try them all. Perennial favorites for us include the aforementioned lamb chops and the sautéed spinach dotted with pine nuts and raisins, but make sure to check out the special sheet for interesting items; on a recent visit, we adored the richness of a duck confit on flatbread with a white-bean purée. The servers flit about like black-clad bees, busily doing their best to get customers in and out before the next screening. But food like this deserves to be savored in leisurely courses; try coming early on a weeknight, when the crowds are thinner, to enjoy a more slowly paced meal.
Zlatko's blurb: Hard to believe but Zlatko has not been to Tapas Teatro yet, although not for a lack of trying: they don't take reservations, the place is always packed and Zlatko refuses to wait for less-than-extraordinary meals. Still, a good question to ask here is why would he ever even bother to try? Teatro has a great buzz as one of the hippest spots in town and the tapas-style food is rumored to be tasty and perfectly enjoyable. Zlatko's theorem: Graduate students and postdocs will like Tapas Teatro. $-$$

Excursions (Maryland, DC and Philadelphia establishments worthy of your attention, all within 90-120 mins drive from Dowtown Baltimore):
Within an 80 mile radius of the Baltimore Convention Center there is a rich coulinary bounty to rival any in North America. Below are but a few places, selected on the basis of two criteria: i) They have something that sets them apart from similarly great places in the New York, Chicago or San Francisco metro areas, and ii) Zlatko likes them.

Tersiguel’s, 8293 Main St, Ellicott City, MD, (410) 465-4004. Map it , Very expensive. Every year, we find ourselves in love all over again with this place. The French Country cuisine never changes much—but it never gets old, either, not with such delicious attention to detail paid to even the humblest dishes, like the house-made sausage served with warm, tangy potato salad. The Tersiguels have made their restaurant’s reputation through using the best possible ingredients—they even grow some of them themselves—in traditional preparations. A succulent rack of lamb is arranged like a spiral over spooned polenta and mixed winter vegetables, every bite enriched by an ambrosial garlic jus. Seafood is also treated respectfully (though the “seafood sampler for two” is really more of a four-person affair), as witnessed in a nightly special that featured a massive, moist, fresh-from-the-boat hunk of rockfish topped with chanterelles and paired with delicate creamed spinach that nestled in a fresh artichoke heart. Speaking of pairing, our most recent visit did leave us with one concern: Our server was not as knowledgeable about wine, nor as skilled in service, as we’re accustomed to seeing at this place. We can only imagine she was new to the staff, as all our former visits have featured some of the finest service available. Hence, the love.
Zlatko's blurb: Country French at its heaviest and most rustic in the middle of historic Ellicott City, Maryland. This is a most serious place to eat -- if you love meat, if you love sausages, if you love potatoes, if you love heavy sauces, if you love heavenly desserts, if you love great wine -- in short -- if you love life itself, you must go. Zlatko goes there once every 3-4 months -- that's how long it takes to wash away the cholesterol build-up from your arteries. Is it worth it? Every large molecule of it! A half-a-day excursion from Baltimore (20 mins drive). Reservations strongly advised. $$$$

Equinox, 818 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC (202) 331-8118. Map it
Zlatko's blurb: When chef Todd Gray came to town few years ago, the Equinox was a sensation: the mighty and powerful rushed in to spend your money hand over fist. The World Bank executives, corrupt Third World potentates, White House insiders, K Street Jack Abramoffs, all were walking over each other to grab a table -- even Zlatko could not get in! But ever since the Washington Post took away one of their stars a year or so ago, Equinox crew have been eating a humble pie -- which means you finally get to eat Gray's phenomenal American fare, bursting with fresh local flavors. This is the best modern American food Zlatko ever had; while he is no professional critic his endorsement is still better than nothing. A half-a-day excursion from Baltimore (45-60 mins drive). Reservations strongly advised. Very expensive but truly memorable. $$$$

SushiKo, 5455 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD (301) 961-1644. Map it
Zlatko's blurb: Many claim that the newer Friendship Heights SushiKo beats its famed Georgetown parent by sashimi-length and a half. Zlatko and George Clooney agree on this one issue. However, be warned that their miracle -- and fugu-certified -- bar chef Kazuhiro (Kaz) Okochi has departed for, well, Kaz on Eye and 19th NW. This never bodes well for a top sushi place but SushiKo's faithful insist there is no detectable drop in culinary greatness. Zlatko's advice: go, enjoy area top sushi and stunning sights of our nation's capital, and watch how your sweat and blood (in form of your tax $$$) is seamlessly transformed into elegant fineries, impeccable coiffure, and priceless plastic surgery of SushiKo's (and area's) gorgeous denizens. Reservations strongly advised. Very expensive. $$$$

Morimoto, 723 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA (215) 413-9070. Map it
Zlatko's blurb: The Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto serves East Coast's best sushi. Assorted other Japanese miracles make an appearance. End of story. Oh, by the way, the brand new Manhattan Morimoto is about to drive a skewer through the heart of Nobu's. A half-a-day to a day excursion from Baltimore (90-120 mins drive). Reservations a must. Seriously expensive but truly memorable. $$$-$$$$$

*Description of listed restaurants, when available, is from the