Encantada in Baltimore
My mom and I have a lot in common. We both have the same taste in mind-numbing reality TV. We throw shade in a similar manner. And, on several occasions, we have the same sense of style. One way we sometimes differ is in the food we eat. I am a straight up carnivore who is no stranger to the “meat sweats.” While my mother, on the other hand, will experiment eating tofu, black bean burgers and other plant-based dishes.
To celebrate Mother’s Day, I tasked myself with finding a cool, trendy restaurant that serves the vegetarian food my mom dabbles in, while still satisfying my father and I’s meat-loving palates.
I spent some time browsing through Yelp, Baltimore Magazine and other Baltimore-based food websites/blogs. I came up with a list of four restaurants for my indecisive mother to choose from. I knew, even before I sent her the options, that she would choose Encantada.
Encantada, located on the third floor of the American Visionary Art Museum, blends creative cuisine with farm-to-table ingredients. According to their website, Encantada partners with local ranchers, farmers and watermen to procure the fastest ingredients available on a daily basis. Their seemingly small menu reflects the seasonal offerings.
The inside of the restaurant echoes the eclectic style of the American Visionary Art Museum. Be sure to take some time during your meal to browse the imaginative art on the walls. The dining room isn’t huge, making it the perfect place to share a meal and conversation. There’s also a spacious covered outdoor terrace.
After we were seated by the large window, we all reached right for the cocktail menu. Much like the décor, Encantada’s cocktails are creative.
Since I drove, I decided to just go with a beer. Troeg’s First Cut Mango IPA was a bit hoppy with just a touch of mango.
My mom ordered the Berry Fizzle, a gin-based cocktail with strawberry basil shrub, cava brut and elderflower liquor. It was a bit too bitter for my taste. My dad went with the Prickly Pineapple. My first sip of this drink caught me off guard. The Xilli spicy liquor is what makes this tequila drink so “prickly.” Topped with a pineapple foam, I was very jealous that I didn’t order this drink.
Encantada’s dinner menu is made up of several small plate options, large plate entrees and sides. We started our meal with three of the small plates: one vegetarian, one with seafood and one just for me.
The description of the Deviled Turnips just read “faux egg, smoked paprika.” When the dish arrived, it looked just like a deviled egg. The “egg white” was a peeled turnip, not too bitter in taste. My parents and I were left puzzled trying to figure out what the yellow filling was. Of course I forgot to ask, but my guess was some kind of vegetable puree. It was smooth just like the yolk mixture of a traditional deviled egg.
As soon as I saw pork belly on the menu, I had to have it. If you can’t tell already, nothing at Encantada is quite what it seems. When you see PBJ on a menu, you’re first thought isn’t pork belly, jicama and gape butter. Four strips of crispy pork belly are piled high and served with a slightly sweet jicama peanut slaw and dots of rich, yet airy, grape butter. I tried to compile all three elements into one bite, but had no problem eating each one on its own.
The most well-liked small plate at our table was the Korean Shrimp Pancake. The “pancake” is made of rice flour and shrimp, then topped with scallion and a tangy bulgogi sauce. The flavors weren’t overpowering, leaving room to eat as much of the dish as the rest of your party will allow.
While my family shared a common love of the Korean Shrimp Pancake, we each went our separate ways when it came time to order our entrees.
I slightly regret ordering an entrée because I was already so full, but the moment my Shrimp & Grits was placed in front of me, I knew I needed just a few bites. The heirloom blue corn grits made the plate pop with a periwinkle color. Don’t be too thrown off by the blue grits, they are just as creamy and smooth and stone-ground grits. The grits, pink shrimp and house tasso (spicy ham) swam in a tomato-based broth that had a spicy kick.
My mom went full vegan with the Cauliflower Steak. A head of cauliflower is cut into about a one inch thick “steak.” While I didn’t try the cauliflower, it had some char marks that probably added another flavor level. It was served over crispy lemon potato slices, asparagus and a romesco sauce.
My dad ordered the Culotte Steak. The lean cut of top sirloin had a generous serving of “Steve’s Steak Sauce” on top. I’m not sure who Steve is but his sweet, yet savory, steak sauce had an incredible depth to it.
I promised myself that I would break out of my food comfort zone this year, and Encantada was the perfect place to dip my toe into the vegan and vegetarian culinary pool. The truth is, I never would’ve tried this restaurant if it wasn’t for my mom. I learned that I can still find great, flavorful dishes on vegetable-forward menus.