We ventured into Baltimore last weekend to try the brand new B&O American Brasserie at the brand new Hotel Monaco Baltimore. This is a formidable restaurant with a high-powered chef, E. Michael Reidt, whose resume includes Food & Wine's Best New Chef of 2001 and top restaurants in Boston, Miami and Santa Barbara. It's a welcome addition to the Baltimore scene, and far more than a typical hotel restaurant, though it is saddled with the responsibility of offering breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The B&O American Brasserie is a destination in its own right and provides ample reasons for locals to give it a try.
The restaurant, located in what used to be the headquarters building of the B&O Railroad, has a handsome bar, lounge, kitchen and a few tables on the ground floor, with more seating in a loft area upstairs. We were initially seated at the rail of the upstairs loft, but found the noise and music from the bar area a little overpowering, so we moved further back into one of the more secluded banquettes. The restaurant wasn't full, so it was easy to move, but one wonders what the sound level might be like on a truly busy night. And it probably will get busy.
The focus here is on Chesapeake regional food and ingredients. The menu is not as extensive or adventurous as the Woodberry Kitchen, but there is a welcome emphasis on local farms and suppliers. As their website says, the restaurant is "committed to sustainable and socially responsible practices...[using] non-intrusive, high quality, eco-friendly products, ingredients and services as well as organic and local foods whenever possible." Their menu is not yet available online, but includes starters and salads, brick oven flatbreads ($8-11), sandwiches ($11-15), and main couses ($17-27, or up to $34 for a ribeye steak). You can also get a number of interesting-looking snacks at the bar from $6 up.
Our meal started with Summer Corn Chowder soup that was a smooth and satisfying beginning. Smoked Carolina Trout was good, not great, but complemented with a wonderful potato salad that left us wanting more. A Ricotta Flatbread with asparagus and a fried egg on top was a disappointment, with the bread coming out tough and too crunchy, and the flavors nondescript.
Our entrees were top-notch. The Chesapeake Rockfish was well prepared, but the smoked shrimp-pea risotto with arugula pesto upon which it arrived was a dream. BBQ Beef Shortrib was succulent with a delicious, smoky barbeque sauce and rich, creamy potatoes. The Culoutte Steak from Vande Rose Farms (in Iowa, not exactly local, but plenty good) was cooked just right, as were the accompanying Duck Fat Fries which put all others I've had to shame. The Rice-Crusted Diver Scallops were fine and recommended by the waitress, but were frankly were the only entree that didn't competely win us over. The Garlicky Spinach we had as a side was certainly fresh, but not very garlicky.
The desserts were inventive and we couldn't resist trying a few. My daughter had a lot of fun with a Pop Rocks Root Beer Float. Apple Tart with Honey Ice Cream proved to be a mini apple pie that would have been a meal in itself (most of it's still in our fridge) but the honey ice cream was very satisfying. Another dessert, which I can't recall, featured Pepper Ice Cream. We ordered just a scoop of the ice cream and it was a revelation -- I've never had that combination of ice cream sweetness with black pepper tang. I'll be on the lookout for it again.
The restaurant has not yet completely found its feet. Our server was pleasant, but it took a while for utensils and other items to appear. Music volume and lighting levels seemed to vary up and down through the evening. And one last quibble: there's only a single unisex bathroom for the entire bar and restaurant. That's going to be a problem that I hope they can soon remedy.
The B&O American Brasserie is located at 2 N. Charles, between Baltimore and Fayette Streets. Valet parking is $5 for restaurant guests. Take a few minutes and wander up the marble steps to the lobby of the Hotel Monaco -- there's a very nice lounge area and it's great to see this landmark building restored.
2 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
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