As usual, this review is based on only one visit to the restaurant, so keep that in mind as you read it. Also, in this case, I wasn't exactly an anonymous diner, and my dinner was comped, as a part of a press preview deal. So keep that in mind, too.
I'd been looking forward to dinner at B&O American Brasserie (2 North Charles Street, 443-692-6172) for quite some time before the doors actually opened. The buzz surrounding the opening has been exciting and even if other bloggers hadn't gotten me riled up, reading Chef E. Michael Reidt's resume would have.
So as Cooper and I pulled up to the restaurant last Tuesday night, I was both hungry and ready to love everything I ate. I am so happy to report that the kitchen didn't disappoint.
First impressions: I love the lobby - the place has huge happy hour potential. It's in a great location - downtown, but right in between bars at the harbor and those in Mt. Vernon. I used to work in the building right across Fayette from the restaurant and believe me, we were hurting for places to drink (it was an ad agency - we needed booze+variety).
Upstairs, where we ate, the black leather banquettes made the look - fortunately, too, because otherwise that level had a little bit of a hotel vibe. That makes sense, though, since B&O is in a hotel, and it is likely to see more than a few business dinners. I think the decor hits the right mix of cool and buttoned-down. This is Baltimore, after all.
I was impressed with the drinks menu, which isn't extensive, but does feature seasonal ingredients and a handful of interesting and creative cocktails. No surprise, since Brendan Dorr, formerly of Ixia, joined the B&O staff after Ixia's closing. In fact, we overheard our waiter, a very tall, friendly, and efficient guy, telling the next table (which happened to be Liz and Nathan Stambaugh) that he also came over from Ixia, as did a lot of the staff. That bodes well for service.
I started with a Chamomile Cup ($10), a mixture of chamomile tea, Ketel One vodka, ginger beer and Pimm's. The tea was a nice balance for the ginger beer, and the was a nice prelude to the meal.
The wine list, which was also carefully edited, could've included a few more bottles at the less expensive end of the spectrum, but we managed to find a highly drinkable pinot-syrah-zinfandel blend called Mediterina ($38). When we ordered, we didn't realize it was an organic wine - the first we've ever had, and a good first experience at that.
So the beverages all worked out, but what about the food?
I started with a salad of heirloom tomato, watermelon, and goat cheese ($10):
As Cooper pointed out, that's just about my favorite mixture of summertime salad foods. It didn't disappoint. I loved the combination of soft and slightly tart tomatoes and crunchy, sweet watermelon, with just a little creamy goat cheese tang. Perfect.
Cooper, unsurprisingly, ordered the pork belly starter - he can't resist pork belly (who can?). It was accessorized with a mustardy sauce and pickled red onion: It was ridiculously good, as pork belly tends to be.
For dinner, I had ricotta gnocchi with asparagus, mushroom and parmesan ($17 full serving, $12 half) and I was so enthralled with its rich flavor that I completely forgot to take pictures. It was a heady dish, but I ate every single bite of my half serving, and really wished I'd ordered a full, just so I had some to take home.
Cooper went the steak frites route, ordering the ribeye ($34) that came with a side of duck fat fries:His steak was cooked with a ton of precision and the flavor was excellent. Plus, duck fat fries. They tasted like McDonald's, plus that little something special. Awesome.
For dessert, I couldn't resist the "wicked pissah" cupcakes, which combined salty peanuts with chocolate and dulce de leche:Cooper was all over his bread pudding, which came with a side of fantastic, just a little spicy, black pepper ice cream:Overall, it was a memorable meal and one we'd definitely like to repeat. On the way home, Cooper said he was reminded a little of Woodberry Kitchen. It's a different vibe - much more businessy - but the two restaurants share an obvious respect for ingredients, a high level of technical skill, and a creative approach.
However, one quick final note: my high school friend, R, and his girlfriend, M, visited the restaurant last week and were slightly underwhelmed. They loved the space, had good service, liked the margherita flatbread, and said the happy hour looked like fun, but they were a little disappointed in overly-coated oysters and too-charred rockfish, and they were turned off by the bacon notes in the smoked shrimp-pea risotto (neither eats bacon, which might do it) - though they mentioned that the risotto itself was perfectly cooked. I trust R's opinion - he eats out a lot and knows what he's talking about - but suggested that he give it a month or so then go back for another try.
I know I will.