The treks and trials of making it to La Cuchara

By SUDGIE MA | February 1, 2018

Baltimore Restaurant Week really couldn’t have come at a better time for most Hopkins students, since it was smack in the middle of Intersession. Classes during this time only had pass/fail grades and generally involved either light workloads or none at all. Most importantly, they were actually fun to take.

People couldn’t stay in the library overnight even if they wanted to. It created the perfect opportunity for students to explore what the city has to offer in terms of off-campus food.

Unfortunately for me, the two credits of classes that I had decided to take made my daily schedule too awkward to go to as many restaurants as I wanted. I had several two-hour breaks every day that could’ve worked, but I didn’t want to risk ruining any good food experiences by rushing back to campus. Outside of straight up skipping class, the only free time I had to try a restaurant was on Monday, January 15.

Since I was going to get only one shot at it, I wanted to go to one of the best places the promotion had to offer in terms of dinner. Luckily, the friend I was going with was indifferent, and so I got to choose the restaurant.

I knew I wanted one of the $35 dinner deals for a fancy experience and quality assurance. Plenty of restaurants participated in the promotion on this pricier end of the spectrum. But my choice actually felt limited in the end: Most of these pricey restaurants had primarily seafood offerings.

Now I’m not a fan of any seafood except shrimp (and certain types of fish, but only when they’re prepared and cooked exactly the way my mom does). This meant I had to choose a fancy restaurant that didn’t play up seafood. La Cuchara ended up being my final pick, with dinner offerings of you-can’t-go-wrong-with chicken or beef. It’s a French restaurant, although the name confused me, because I definitely learned the word cuchara in Spanish.

I set the reservation for 6:15 p.m., and my friend and I intended to Blue Jay Shuttle over. After all, it was conveniently located in Hampden. However, what we didn’t account for was the fact that it was a holiday — it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the shuttle wasn’t running. Whatever.

One of the selling points of the restaurant was that it was close to campus in the first place, being in Hampden and all. It wasn’t too late. So my friend and I decided to walk.

It was a poor choice to make. As we walked, the day darkened before our eyes, all while we set foot on weird roundabout trails that Google Maps told us to follow. There was a good 10 minutes of walking on empty highway while looking around nervously to see if we were being followed. When the trail did involve sidewalk, there would be a barbed wire fence running on the side. It wasn’t until this somewhat spooky experience that I realized how much I took campus security for granted.

When we finally made it to La Cuchara, late to the reservation by only a few minutes, my friend and I both felt relief over the fact that we were still alive with our belongings intact. It was obvious to us that an Uber back was going to be mandatory.

Here’s the million-dollar question my story has been leading up to: Was the trip worth making? Definitely. The restaurant had a cozy but classy vibe. My friend and I had to be the only undergraduate students around. Most people were middle aged. Our server also kept coming over to offer drinks. We both declined. But I had this sneaking suspicion that he wouldn’t have asked for IDs, even if we’d said yes.

Of course, the food was absolutely amazing. My favorite type of meat is cow meat, so I picked beef shin for my main course. It was delicious, and the chunk of meat they gave me was intimidatingly tall. However, I devoured it in no time — so I didn’t exactly savor it too much. In fact, I don’t really remember its taste all that much anymore.

I know it definitely compares to some of my favorite main courses I’ve had outside of Baltimore, most of which involve steak. The dessert I had afterwards was beautiful and simplistic: It was basically a brownie but with a thick, unflavored shell. The shell did compliment the inner sweetness well by keeping it under control and not overwhelming the taste buds.

But the real highlight of my meal was the appetizer: butternut squash velouté, which was basically a thick, sweet creamy puree that had some indescribably intricate, subtle flavoring. I used it as a dip for the complementary slices of bread offered, and the combination of flavors and textures was just mind-blowing.

I could definitely have spent the whole meal eating refills of the velouté and bread. I would probably not complain even a peep if that became the only thing I was allowed to eat for the rest of the year.

Just reflecting on this meal makes me want to go back again but, this time, by car.

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