Baltimore’s food scene has been getting an incredible amount of local and national attention over the past few years. Le Comptoir du Vin, a French-inspired restaurant recommended by Baltimore Banner reader Bill Hamilton, has landed on national best restaurant lists in both Bon Appétit and Esquire magazines.
This week in Ask Charm City Table, a column where I explore the area’s dining scene through your questions and recommendations, I am revisiting Le Comptoir du Vin, a restaurant Hamilton describes as “great, unusual, and small.”
Bill is spot on: The restaurant is rather small. When you first walk up the stairs and inside, it appears there’s enough room for maybe 10 people. I could walk from the front to the back, where the bar is located, with just a few steps. There is also a second floor on the lower level with an indoor and outdoor space that can accommodate larger parties.
When I think about the look and feel of most of the French bistros I’ve visited in the Baltimore area and around the country, I picture a dimly lit space with big windows covered by dark (usually red) curtains. These spaces typically lean into more of a maximalist design with the decor.
Le Comptoir du Vin, which means “the wine counter” in French, feels different from these places, maintaining the warmth and charm of a French-inspired space while resembling more of a modern wine bar and bistro hybrid. It feels unusual in a fresh, remarkable sort of way.
The floors, tables, chairs and wine shelves are all different types and shades of wood. Le Comptoir du Vin’s menu is seasonal and rotating, always written on a black chalkboard propped up on a shelf in the center of the restaurant’s accent wall. From starters to entrees and dessert, there are usually no more than 15 items on the dinner menu at a time.
I started with focaccia and butter and the castelfranco salad with estive and anchovy vin. Bread is usually a dinner highlight, and this time was no different. But I also highly recommend trying any salad that is on the menu. The castelfranco had a nice crunch, slightly bitter with sweet undertones. The anchovy vinaigrette balanced the bitter and sweet with its salty and tangy flavors. During my previous visit, I tried another salad, which was outstanding as well.
The starters were unique and delightful. Our table decided to order and share another item before our entrees. We tried the grilled octopus sandwich on focaccia with crushed potatoes, salsa verde and aioli. The octopus had the ideal texture of seafood — just slightly chewy. The potatoes added substance, and the sauces added garlic zest and richness to the grilled sandwich. Our table gave high praise all around.
Next, I ate the onglet with potatoes, green sauce and horseradish cream. Someone from my dinner party ordered the same entree, so the restaurant served it to us family style. Onglet is a hanger steak, a classic dish in European bistros. Cooked a perfect medium rare, the steak was tender and salted perfectly. The starchy potatoes, green, herbaceous sauce and horseradish cream added comfort, bold flavors and depth to the dish.
For dessert I ordered the double lemon pudding. Maintaining the European style of cuisine, the pudding was a round baked custard, browned on top. The dessert was presented in a shallow bowl, placed on top of lemon sauce and whipped cream. I tasted the tart, citrusy flavors of lemon juice and the brightness of lemon zest in each smooth, silky bite.
Overall, I thought the food was great at this small and unusual Maryland Avenue restaurant.
I would love to know your favorite restaurants. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with recommendations and questions.
Simone Phillips is the founder of the food blog Charm City Table and a creative in residence for The Baltimore Banner.