It's been a while since I wrote a restaurant review. Until last night, it had been a while since I'd been to a new restaurant. Let's hope I remember how this reviewing thing goes.
A few months ago, in an effort to spice up our monthly girls' dinner, my friend Alicia suggested we shift the venue from Zen West (always reliable) to other spots. One of the places she suggested was Rocket to Venus. It's owned by the same people who own Holy Frijoles in Hampden (where Alicia's brother Patrick works) and she thought it had a cute atmosphere that would be appropriate for our dinners.
We never made it to R2V with the girls (after only one "adventurous" month, we decided it was easier to stick to Zen West after all) but I kept it in the back of my mind as a place I'd like to try. So last night, when we found ourselves with a babysitter and no plans, I made a reservation.
And it's a good thing I did, according to the hostess. Otherwise she would've had to turn us away or, at the very most, send us to the bar to compete for a seat. The restaurant was crowded - completely full by the time we left (around 8:30). And good for them.
The restaurant takes it's name - and decor - from an old (true) story about three guys from Hampden in the late '20s. As the web site and menu explain, the trio decided - just like that - to build a rocket ship that would take them to Venus. Seriously. Hilarity, obviously, ensued and one more crazy Hampden folks story was added to the pile.
I find backstory like this extremely charming and I was all about the sleek retro-future decor. But if "theme" isn't your thing then, well, it's not your thing. The decor of the place is also influenced by the clientele. Young, artsy, Hampden-y, hipster. Significantly cooler than our suburban selves, but that's OK.
So, it was a cute place. The food was good, too. We split fried pickles and an order of roasted balsamic brussel sprouts (kind of a house specialty) as appetizers. I was expecting the sprouts to maybe be a little crunchier and Cooper thought the chipotle mayonnaise dipping sauce that came with the pickles tasted like it was out of a Kraft squeezable bottle (not exactly a criticism - more of an observation), but overall, we liked the apps.
My entree, the Thai mussels, was pretty awesome, flavor-wise. It was subtle, for a Thai curry, but really, really nice with just enough underlying spice to make it interesting. Cooper liked his shrimp with grits and andouille sausage, too, but I think I won. We both demolished our meals, but he stole more of mine.
Portion size was nice, too - it wasn't a crazy amount of food. And costs are very reasonable. With two drinks each (wine for me, beer for Cooper) the entire bill was $50. Not bad.
There were more things on the menu that I'd like to try, too - everything reads as flavorful and interesting. I didn't think too hard about my wine order, but that list also seemed well-rounded.
Plus, in my pre-dinner review reading, I was happy to hear that the management listened to complaints about smoke levels, banning smoking in the (central) bar area until after 9 pm. Our waitress also mentioned that the ceviche, which was panned in some of the reviews, was actually coming off the menu and was not available. Listening to customers and making changes based on feedback? Good for them.
Which brings me to our quibble with the place. When we first arrived, we were served fairly quickly, by a waitress who absolutely screamed "Hampden". Not in an old school "hon" way, but in a quirky, Ghost World, artsy and young way. That's cool. She started off strong - friendly, responsive, funny.
But after we got our meals, things went downhill fast. Not that she was any less nice - well, actually, we wouldn't know because she sort of disappeared. We had to ask for our drinks to be refilled (which is kind of a pet peeve of mine) and after finishing, we sat for a good 10 minutes before she came by to offer the check. And dessert, as an afterthought. But we took the check.
The restaurant had gotten a lot busier since we'd arrived. But still, she didn't seem totally crazed at any point. Hopefully, though, it was just a fluke.
But that really was our only complaint. It was a fun night and the food was good - and cheap.
Verdict: We'd go back. If it was in Towson, we'd go back more. But then again, if it was in Towson, it wouldn't be the same place.