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822 Lancaster Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202
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It couldn't be better!
July 28, 2011
When our son told us that he was getting married, we realized that we would have to plan a rehearsal dinner. Under the best of circumstances this is not easy. Since we live in Washington State and the wedding was in Baltimore, it added another level ...
When our son told us that he was getting married, we realized that we would have to plan a rehearsal dinner. Under the best of circumstances this is not easy. Since we live in Washington State and the wedding was in Baltimore, it added another level of complexity. How would we find a good spot, without being familiar with the various venues 3,000 miles away?
I’ve never really had a decent "banquet" dinner and dreaded the thought of hosting a typical dinner. You know what I’m talking about; an almost fresh salad, a hunk of overcooked meat or fish, with steam table vegetables and a bland starch followed by an unimaginative desert. After literally hours of reading online menus, I was able to narrow the choice down to a few restaurants. Cinghiale was near the top of this list. The menu was impressive, with very inventive approaches to Italian cuisine. It looked great, but could they serve that menu to a group of 60 and maintain the quality?
With some trepidation, I called Heather Beckman at Cinghiale. I asked her a couple of ridiculous questions in terms of adding a commercially prepared dessert rather than something prepared by their chef. I just wanted to see if they would compromise their standards just to book a banquet. She very tactfully refused my request. It was exactly the answer I was looking for. At that instant I knew I had found the restaurant I was seeking. After this it was all simple, we just had to plan the menu.
Cinghiale has a unique way of charging for a banquet dinner. They simply figure out how much their banquet room would generate on that particular night if it were not being used for a banquet. That’s how much you pay; whether you’re hosting 30 people of 64 the price is the same. It really takes agonizing about cost out of the equation. There are always a few folks who fall on the cusp of whether they should be included in the invitation. It was very nice to be in a position of not worrying about spending more for those folks. Our initial guest list was 54, but we were able to add 6 more and not be concerned that we just added additional expense.
Do you remember you had a six-course rehearsal dinner? I do. With Heathers expert help we were able to design a menu that knocked every ones socks off. We started with butlered appetizers. They included Bresaola, Salame, Grilled Shrimp with Speck, Vegetable Bruschetta, Tuna Tartare and Crispy Asparagus. I have never been a fan of raw fish or asparagus. The tuna tartare was melt in your mouth delicious. The asparagus was lightly breaded and gently fried, simply incredible!
This was followed by a salad of baby greens, pickled beets, Gorgonzola, and edible flowers with a drizzle of the most wonderful balsamic vinaigrette.
The primi course offered a choice of Gnocchi with a lamb ragu and fresh mint or Risotto with morel mushrooms, thyme and Parmigiano.
For the secundi course we feasted on either grilled Branzino with caramelized endive and Meyer lemon and caper brown butter, or Magret of Duck with rhubarb, crystallized ginger in an Amaro sauce.
A "real" dinner always includes a cheese course. We had a selection of Robiola, Taleggio, and Fontina.
You’d think that after such a feast there would be no room for dessert. In most cases you’d be right. But when the dessert is home made salted caramel gelato you’d be wrong! We somehow made room.
What about wine, I hear you cry. Five wines, all perfectly matched with the menu, accompanied this incredible six-course meal.
No doubt the food was incredible. But the best food in the world will not make up for bad service. Cinghiale excelled at this too. We had a dedicated wait staff that was friendly, efficient and superb. Have you ever had you order taken at a banquet? Although we provided a count of the primi and secundi courses, and knew in advance what everyone was having, everybody’s order was taken individually. Very impressive. We had a couple of vegetarians, no problem. They each got a special primi and secundi course. One individual was lactose intolerant. He got a special primi course. One individual was dieting and didn’t want a primi course to watch his calories. He got a special low calorie primi course. The amazing thing is we didn’t have to ask for this, it just happened. During the reception, the service was impeccable. No one ever had an empty glass. No one had to look around for the next appetizer. As is to be expected at this sort of affair, the bride and groom were mobbed with well wishers. They had a dedicated waiter who saw to their every need. Part of every rehearsal dinner is the "lets make fun of the kids" portion. There was a PowerPoint presentation prepared, but for reason that was unclear, the lap top would not interface with the projector. No problem, they ran up to the office, got their laptop and a flash drive and, voila, disaster averted. Perhaps the best example of the caliber of service was dessert. My son fell in love with the salted caramel gelato on our first visit and really wanted it for dessert. They were a bit reluctant to do this and it was completely understandable. A serving was three scoops; so with 60 guests this means scooping and serving 180 scoops of gelato before the first scoop melts. Their standards are such that serving someone gelato that had started to melt was not acceptable. They even figured this out. The "scooper" scooped the gelato in their walk in cooler. Then an army of waiters (I think they even "drafted" waiters from the main restaurant) descended and served all 60 guests in the blink of an eye. As I mentioned above, the whole affair was for a fixed price, near the end of the evening the head waiter informed me that we were a few hundred dollars short of spending the minimum and suggested a champagne toast to the happy couple. What a perfect ending to a perfect meal, and amazingly less than 1% over budget.
Banquet food and banquet service are almost always tolerable at best. This was simply the most incredible banquet experience I have ever had. In fact, the experience rivals the best restaurant meal I have ever had. As part of the price a fixed percentage tip was included. I added 50% to this amount and was happy to do so.
This was all arranged by their banquet manager, Heather Beckman. Heather is as amazing as the food and the service. She was always available to answer my sometimes stupid questions. She worked extra hard to figure out how to include the cheese course that I wanted and still serve great wines and stay within budget. I’m sure she used her powers of persuasion to convince them it was possible to serve 180 scoops of gelato before the first scoop melted. The event was an incredible success and all the credit goes to her, all I did was read a bunch of restaurant reviews and write a check.
If you are planning any sort of event and need a wonderful meal served in a beautiful setting by professional wait staff, stop worrying about how to make it happen. Just call Heather and she will take it from there.
If on the other hand you happen to be in Baltimore and just want one of the best restaurant experiences you will ever had, just head for Cinghiale, you will be pleased!