On a recent holiday weekend, my wife and I were contemplating a get away from our town, a suburb of bustling Washington, D.C. Our thoughts were to the usual places like Ocean City, the Blue Ridge Mountains or Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay. While all of them had an appeal, the place that we landed on was our city to the north, Baltimore. What a splendid choice.
I booked a Marriott for one night that was close to Baltimore’s famous Inner Harbor. In the morning, on a sunny and cool temp day we jumped into the car and drove the 40 miles to the hotel. The trip took about 45 minutes as traffic was light on interstate 95. We checked in around lunch time as I wanted to enjoy a lunch at one of the many restaurants in the Harbor area. We walked the 3 blocks down to the Harbor. As we walked, we saw a lot of college age and younger kids walking around with lacrosse sticks and in team uniforms. We realized then that the finals of the NCAA Lacrosse tournament was taking place in town at Camden Yard, normally the home of the woeful Baltimore Orioles baseball team. This added to the energy and excitement.
Our planned destination was the Aquarium which has wonderful exhibits and rates as 1 of the finest in the U.S. Before going there, we needed food. We grabbed a table at the M & S Grill on the water. As we ate, we were entertained about 50 yards away by a witty juggler – aren’t they all – who worked the crowd with his ability to toss various items, flaming or not, while riding a unicycle. He would even pass the flaming stick under his legs – quickly I might add. I marveled at the beauty of the Harbor area as we sat there on a clean cool blue day.
We noticed people disembarking from one of the ubiquitous water taxis. I looked at my watch and saw we had time for a quick ride. Let’s get on the water. For $10 per person, we enjoyed a quick express ride of 45 minutes to Fells Point and back. This is one of many restored areas in the harbor area where there are good restaurants and ample watering holes. As we went into fells Point, we passed an anchored British coast guard ship that was open for visits. On the trip back to our starting point, we saw a nice looking townhouse project that looked like it floated on the water. We dreamed how neat that would be to live on the water and take your boat to work. (Note: the day we returned home, I saw in the paper an “Auction” ad that showcased this project).
I had ordered tickets online for the Aquarium and was so glad that I did. It was packed and a time slot had to be reserved for the admission time and the Dolphin show. The City had developed an easy way to take in the all the exhibits, and we followed a walkway that passed all the exhibits. I have always been fascinated by the sharks so we moved quickly to the big multi-level shark and sting ray pool. There were different types of both animals, but I was interested more in the rays, especially since Steve Irwin was killed by a ray a few years ago in an attack which was caught on film. I also have a friend, Joe, in Longboat Key, Florida where we spend our winters who is an avid (or in other words crazy) fisherman who wades waist deep into the Gulf and casts for sharks or whatever. I saw him do this in 50 degree weather and howling winds in February. He usually catches sharks and sometimes big ones. He told me about being stung through his sneakers by a ray as he waded out. He said that it was the most painful experience he has ever had.
Both the sharks and rays mingled and swam gracefully by us and the crowds nearby. We moved on to the jellyfish invasion exhibit. This was the exhibit that the Aquarium was promoting. While they were beautiful to see and there was a lot of species, I was disappointed that there was no Man o War. We decided to get to the dolphin show early to get good seats.
In a big and bright area of 3 interconnecting pools, we sat for the highlight of the visit. The trainers were working with the 5 dolphins and getting them prepped for the tricks that they would do when the show began. A young and knowledgeable girl began the show with a brief discussion about the life and habits of the dolphin. Then the entertainment began. Two big boys - I think - came out into the middle and did a full cartwheel in the air and sprayed those in the first three rows. They circled back and got their treat. From standing on their tails to lifting and swimming with the trainer on their snout, the dolphins delighted all of us.
After the show, we headed back to the hotel for a quick clothes change. Our dinner reservation had been changed by me earlier in the day from Roy's, one of our favorites, to one in Little Italy which area is about a mile from the Inner Harbor. I had done my research online and settled on a place called La Tavola. After a 1 mile taxi ride that took 20 minutes and cost $14 – remember the lacrosse tournament – we opened the door to the restaurant. We were greeted by a smile and welcome by the maitre’d who seated us in an open and pleasant room. The place was near full and the smells were to die for. We soon got to know the maitre’d whose name is Tommy much better as he took our drink orders and discussed the menu with us. He was a pleasant person and as accommodating as we have experienced in our many years of dining out. I ordered the black sea bass, head tail and all. We decided that we had to try the pasta as La Tavola touts this in their marketing info. Our selection was pasta with vegetables. It was exceptional if you can believe that such a simple dish could be so good. We washed it down with a light Chianti. Tommy was ever attentive throughout and saw that we were ready for dessert. We chose a berry sorbet which was just okay and a VSOP cognac. Tommy was sure that we got a big glass. It was good that I was not driving. He had complimentary limoncello ready for us, but I had to show discretion. He called a taxi and we said our good byes as we determined to make a trip back. This was a good restaurant with a nice ambiance, very good food and Tommy and his staff who make the occasion special.
The next morning we drove back home. After a short traffic free ride, we were home. It had been a nice choice to not stray too far from home and to find a place like Baltimore which has one of the nicest areas, its Inner Harbor, with activities, stores and restaurants to please all.