Recently, a friend treated me to dinner. While I’m known to dine out frequently, it’s a very infrequent (read: rare) happenstance to be taken out. My friend picked the venue — I often tire of giving restaurant recommendations — and completely surprised me. He’d reserved a table at The Black Hat, a tucked-away bistro only a block from the Inner Harbour.
The space is pretty damn posh. Or elegant. Or hip. Or really any word interior designers are throwing around these days. (For all you tech lovers, Meta Lab design studios are directly above the restaurant. Hip indeed.) The bar, a lovely and large focal point, actually becomes lost in the cavernous space. High ceilings, vast windows and barely any other diners the Friday night we visited, combined for an eerie mood.
We began the meal with share plates from the charcuterie menu, chicken liver parfait ($7) and homemade “cheese whiz” ($4). In this instance, parfait is actually an ultra smooth pâté. While the chicken ran on the sweet side, the spot-on, bright orange cheese spread went down salty. Together, a perfect pair. My friend was less impressed, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Cheese Whiz. Toasted baguette and picked vegetables accompany. I’d order both again. Plus, saying charcuterie is fun. And hip. Don’t forget hip.
My friend then tucked into a confit pork shoulder ($23) with a pork-filled spring roll and ginger snap peas. I opted for steelhead trout ($19) atop an edamame, bacon and cannellini sauté with fennel salad. Both plates left the table bare.
I was pretty worried three of my favourite ingredients — fish, soy beans and cured pork — wouldn’t marry well, but the dish worked out swimmingly. A light lemonbutter sauce links the pan-fried trout with the salty beans and crisp, licorice-y salad. Real talk, I could have devoured the dish in five minutes flat, but given the fancy surroundings, I composed myself.
The pork shoulder is a decadent offering; confit refers to when food is completely submerged in oil or fat for the duration of cooking. It goes without saying, each bite was wonderfully tender. I felt the spring roll too much of a good thing, as the deep-fried wrapper distracted with its oily crunch. The snap peas could be a dish of their own, remaining crisp yet heated, with a hearty helping of ginger root.
For those not completely sold with The Black Hat’s upscale presentation, I urge you to visit if only to use the bathrooms. Both the guys and gals stalls feature lovely stock imagery of scantily clad models wearing black hats. Not so hip as hilarious.
Just remember, don’t wear a black hat to The Black Hat. We all know that’s never hip.