Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of the day Cooper and I started dating. I like that kind of anniversary - Cooper, not quite as much. But since I'm the one who makes dinner reservations (and, for that matter, makes dinner), we celebrated.
We had a gift certificate to Tio Pepe's left over from a wedding gift, so we (I) decided we'd use it. Neither of us had ever been, but we'd both heard a lot about the restaurant - it is something of a Baltimore institution. My parents went to a business dinner there sometime about 20 years ago, and my mother still can't say enough about the pine nut roll dessert. On the other hand, our friends Bryan and Margaret went on a date there a few years ago and were very disappointed to have to wait for a table, even though they had reservations. They felt slighted because of their age (and I do hate that).
So we went not knowing quite what to expect. I'd heard that its a fun place - definitely not a quiet, romantic dinner spot - and that was true. We were seated right away (and had gotten an 8 pm reservation only the day before). The decor is old-school, basement, Spanish - aging but nice, and approachable without being cheesy. We sat in a small room next to two women who were quite amusing (Cooper and I can't help but eavesdrop. Its been one of our hobbies ever since our first date.)
I thought the service was OK, but maybe a little bit slow. At first I thought they were just doing a good job pacing, but I changed my mind when our dinner came a little quicker than I'd expected. The red sangria was fantastic, though, and their wine list was very reasonable.
The food was good, too, if not as amazing as my mom thought. I had artichoke hearts with hollandaise as an appetizer (my hollandaise is better) and Cooper had a delicious, hearty seafood soup (he won that round hands down). As an entree he had roast suckling pig and I had tenderloin in a brown sauce, served with green beans and wild rice (that round was a draw. Both were very good.)
We ordered one dessert between us - the famous pine nut roll. I wish I'd had my camera because it looked nothing like what I expected. The layers of whipped cream were orange. But it was delicious (though maybe not reaching the sky high expectations put in place my mom.)
Overall, we liked it, and would go back, but I'm not sure it's entirely deserving of its long-held reputation as one of the best restaurants in Baltimore. I've definitely had better meals - a lot of them. If I had to choose, I'd pick Pazo or Petit Louis over Tio Pepe any day.