Mt. Vernon’s XS (www.xsbaltimore.com ) has provided Baltimore for a new place to go, complete with breakfast all day, sushi, cocktails and desserts. Remember how things were 20 years ago? Generally, only diners were open late and none of their menus were too inspiring. XS has been open for a few years now, but they have just opened up a new lounge area and it’s gorgeous. With banquettes, low lighting, exposed brick, candles… it definitely rivals that other lounge in the area. XS definitely has its own comfy vibe, though. First of all, they open up at 6:30 in the am with their specialty coffee drinks, breakfast, fresh fruit… perfect for all those commuters to D.C. running to Penn Station, students running to UB or MICA, local business people. Mt. Vernon and Mt. Royal are laid back neighborhoods – having spent 20 years there, I know the residents generally aren’t running there then! Well, maybe as an after-hours thing. If you’re stuck at Penn station, you should run down the street 2 blocks and check them out. At lunch, they roll out the sushi and wraps, with lots of fresh, unique rolls. At night, starting at 8 pm, the DJ and the house music comes out… but not too thumpy. The whole ambiance becomes chic and warm, so if you grabbed your coffee there in the day, you certainly won’t be bored coming later again the same night. Day and night at XS are two different creatures.
There are 4 floors to XS. On the third floor is the lounge and also, the bar. The bar has a flat screen tv and I did see some people who were eating dinner alone – sometimes, it’s hard for a single person to find a place to have a good meal and feel comfortable, but they definitely do at XS.
XS has a selection of cocktails that are different without being too out there, mixologist-wise. You’re not going to find, say, hunks of Taleggio cheese in your drinks… but you can get mojitos and margaritas with a handful of different fresh fruits muddled in there, like blackberry, strawberry, and raspberry.
XS is known for their inventive sushi and fish dishes. Appetizers include a seared white tuna that’s beautiful and tastes beautifully, calamari that is so lightly coated and so tender that it may be some of the best I’ve ever had, and the chic tuna pizza.
One of their popular and tastiest sushi rolls is the Chesapeake roll. It’s very accessible: with salmon, avocado, cream cheese and cucumber inside – like a Philly roll, almost – it’s covered on the outside with a rich, creamy crab salad.
XS does a bang-up business with their cooked entrees, too. Next to me, I overheard someone who had just spent two years in Japan and loved his red snapper. I tried the crispy soft shell crab and wondered why people didn’t think of this years ago: they serve it with a creamy dill sauce and bacon! It’s a hearty, smoky, rich combo. Very satisfying.
XS wants people to feel indulged, hence the name. People here get dessert! The chocolate “lasagna” is a cream-filled confection, homemade snack cake if you will. The fruit tarts are fresh and simply prepared: the fruit taste shines through, unlike some places that put a lot of glaze on theirs.