Cool in Canton

Seared Magret duck breast with a scoop of farro "risotto"

Seared Magret duck breast with a scoop of farro "risotto"

Fork & Wrench combines creative dishes with an edgy, intriguing environment.

By Kit Waskom Pollard

At Canton’s new Fork & Wrench, the staff exudes an edgy confidence appropriate for a downtown hotspot. Fortunately, with that confidence comes good food, capable service and an impressive space.

Since opening last spring, the restaurant has received a lot of attention for its design. It’s well-deserved. Nearly everything in the place is vintage — down to the intricate sink in the ladies’ room.

Carefully selected and restored by owners Andy Gruver and Jason Sanchez, the pieces are meant to evoke the working classes of the early 20th century. Despite distressed wood and salvaged iron at every turn, we’re not sure if the space completely achieves the “working class” part of that goal. But the décor is eye-catching. Fork & Wrench is full of nooks and crannies hiding intriguing details.

During our Friday night visit, the bar was packed, though a few tables remained empty in the dining areas. Settled in on high stools, we chatted with our waiter, who was ready with all sorts of recommendations.

“I don’t want to tell you what you have to order,” he insisted, but his case for the chicken liver mousse ($7) was convincing. Served in a small glass jar, the mousse was dense and sweet, its richness cut by a layer of tangy Madeira wine jelly. Smeared on crostini and dusted with crushed pistachio, the appetizer was satisfying and interesting.

Executive chef Sajin Renae, formerly of Vina Rosina, presides over the kitchen. Her constantly evolving menu embraces all the foodie buzzwords — local, artisanal, farm-to-table — but it’s her creative approach that makes the food sing.

Take those pistachios, for example. With the chicken liver mousse, they provided unusual texture and a hint of nuttiness to a rich, sweet appetizer. Renae used the same nut in a mild pesto that boosted the sweetness of scallops cooked in brown butter with bacon ($19). Served over cornmeal “Johnny cakes,” the three large scallops were melt-in-your-mouth tender.

Also on our waiter’s strong recommendation, we tried the seared Magret duck breast ($17), paired with Tamari Malbec, a food-friendly red from Argentina ($7 per glass, $26 per bottle). The suggestion was a good one: The wine’s intense fruitiness complemented the duck’s earthy flavor.

Cooked to a lovely medium rare, thinly-sliced duck fanned attractively around a scoop of “risotto” made with large-pearled farro, baby carrots in brown butter and pea tendrils.

When eaten alone, the bird tasted a touch underseasoned, but taken with a bite of the risotto, the meat was just right.

The dessert menu at Fork & Wrench is brief and mostly seasonal. Peach clafoutis ($7) was sweet and fresh. The fruit, baked into a cupcake of eggy batter, was a nice counterpoint for densely whipped buttermilk jazzed up with bourbon and cinnamon.

Lava cake ($6) is a restaurant staple, but Fork & Wrench takes it to a new level with the addition of sweet caramel sauce and black Himalayan sea salt. Not only does the salt boost the sauce, but its black grains, which look like Hawaiian sand, add whimsy.

The main floor bar at Fork & Wrench was very appealing, so tempting that we paused for an after-dinner cocktail. The beer list is impressive, but we couldn’t resist the Aviation ($7). A Prohibition-era concoction of lemon, gin, maraschino liqueur and crème de violet, the cocktail was authentic, but also easy to drink.

As we left, the bar was heating up, with revelers crowding around small tables and perching on stools. Fork & Wrench is cool, there’s no doubt.

So cool that it’s hot.

FOODIE NEWS

• The Soup N’ Walk series at Cylburn Arboretum combines strolls with a naturalist with a lunch by Atwater’s. Oct. 25’s theme is “Nature’s Palette, Cylburn Color,” while Nov. 11’s is “Winter Tree Identification.” Both are 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; $25 per person. 4915 Greenspring Ave., Baltimore. Register at 410-367-2217, ext. 104.

• Linganore Winecellars pairs chocolate and wine at their Halloween & Wine tastings this month. $10 per person. 13601 Glissans Mill Road, Mt. Airy. Get tasting times at linganorewines.com.

• The Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show in D.C.’s Washington Convention Center is Nov. 3 and 4. Jacques Pépin, Gail Simmons, Carla Hall and more are on the docket, as are samplings and shopping. See details at MetroCookingDC.com.