Blue Grass - Federal Hill
We'll soon be going to this new restaurant, but wanted to check first and see if anyone can enlighten us with their experience. Since they don't have a website up and running, I can't peruse the menu, the wine list, or get a feel for the price range. Also, do they have valet parking, because parking in that area is non-existent.
Thank you in advance for any field work you can do for us.
Valet is available. Checked out the menu last night, looked like the most expensive entree was $29 (and that was the only one) with plenty in the $9 to $18 range. Did not check out the wine list so I can't help on that front. The owner recommended reservations as they have been at capacity every night since their soft opening a week ago. Hope to make it there soon.
Courtney and I dressed up and walked the two blocks to the restaurant last night looking for something different for our second (yay!) anniversary. It was interesting, and the menu is varied and quite good, but we hit a few off notes, mostly on the ambiance.
It seems like the place isn't sure if it wants to be mid-upscale dining or a bar. When you walk in, there's a bar in front of you with two flat screen TVs hanging overhead. That's fine, you need TVs at the bar (although watching the O's this season is probably better for alcohol sales than food). Just behind the hostess stand is a large and frankly tacky plastic Maker's Mark barrel -- I think it was a stool for the hostess, but I'm not sure. It wouldn't be worth mentioning except for the amount of effort they put into renovating this place (which is nice -- all dark wood and lots of windows). Dorm room decorations don't really fit in.
After a couple of minutes we were seated in the upstairs dining room. Running parallel with the staircase on the second floor is another bar, with another TV. Fine. But there's yet another TV on the wall over the dining room. You can't see it from the bar unless you turn around and crick your neck, so it's obvious that it's meant for the dining room patrons. Why a place that wants to serve a fairly ambitious dinner menu thinks their patrons need to watch TV while they eat is completely beyond me. Another super tacky note in a pretty nice dining room.
But this is about food. And the menu sounds amazing, and for the most part it is. They've taken some real chances here, and they've pretty much paid off. It's not Charleston quality but it's not Charleston prices either.
The menu is divided into small plates, medium bites, large bites, extra large bites, and charcuterie & cheese. Most of the really interesting dishes were in the middle plates section, so we ordered several of those, along with a charcuterie. Out waitress asked if we wanted them all at once, and I said to bring them when they were ready. This was a bit of a mistake on my part, as we got one course about five minutes before everything else showed up at once.
Gratis bread service is hot cornbread served in a small cast iron skillet. They don't really bring enough butter for the whole thing, so we had to ask for more, but it was pretty decent -- just a hint of sweetness and not dry at all.
Veal sweetbread "tots" with sweet potato tots was fine, but probably my least favorite dish of the evening. There wasn't a lot of flavor like I'd normally expect from eating sweetbreads. Courtney thought that perhaps they're just not suited to deep frying, which may be. The sweet potato tots were quite good though.
Tacos three ways is three small tacos on small tortillas -- one each of antelope chorizo, wild boar al pastor and braised oxtail. This was a really good dish. Each taco was about two or three bites. The wild boar was particularly savory. We each took a couple of bites out of each one. This is a really nice dish.
Next we had a bison (I think) carpaccio, served with quail eggs and pickled mushrooms. Another winner -- I gave up the last bite to Courtney but, oh, I wanted it. Beefy, tart and delicious. Note that the online menu lists a beef tartare, which I don't think was on the menu we saw -- this may have replaced it.
Beer braised brussels sprouts actually seemed to be roasted, at least at the end. We liked them a lot.
The charcuterie consisted of a pheasant ballotine that didn't have a lot of flavor, duck rillettes that weren't on a par with Michel Richard's but still very good, and a stunning chicken liver mousse that surprised me by being sweet, unctuous, and absolutely perfect. Sadly, by the time we got around to it, we were stuffed and couldn't finish it.
Prices were very reasonable. Total bill was about $80 including two top shelf martinis for Courtney and two Loose Cannon for me. However, it would be nice if drink prices were on the menu and beer list.
It seemed like there were dining rooms in the back on both floors. Not sure if they are TV-free or not, but when we go back I'll try to find out and ask to be seated there if so.
Overall we were pleased. They're doing some interesting things with food, and while they don't all work perfectly, there's enough there to make it well worth a trip.
Thanks for the details, Jon.
Haven't been there yet, but I am also confused about the TVs. Why are they there? Is it really necessary to have them in the dining room?
Can't we go out for once to a place and not have every line of sight overtaken by TVs?
I'm eager to try the food, but already the ambiance doesn't sound like it's going to be calling me back.
What a shame.
Courtney and I went back here this evening for a more informal meal. Again, there were good points and not as good, but my overall recommendation as a place that should be tried stands.
For a starter we had crawfish hush puppies -- bits of crawfish fried and served with a tomato "aoili" although it was more of a mayo -- not much if any garlic flavor. Half of the dish was perfect -- the other half was overcooked. It was like they came from two separate batches. Regardless, I liked it and would order it again.
I ordered a muffaletta. I'd recommend this to someone looking for a good sandwich but not a great muffaletta -- the olive flavor was muted. I'd order it again but with my expectations lowered.
Courtney had the chicken fried quail chopped salad. I loved this. A salad of basil and various vegetables accompanied by a whole deep fried quail. This was really good -- the quail was moist and flavorful.
I still think this is one of the most interesting restaurants in Baltimore, and a great addition to the SoBo food scene. In spite of a few missteps, it's one of the best places I've been to recently.
I went back there this week with my mom. While the food is still very good, I'm sad to report that they have scaled back the menu. The original menu had a ton of interesting options. Now they are doing weekly menus that are much abbreviated from the original. The tacos three ways no longer had the antelope.
I don't know if people just weren't ordering the more interesting dishes or what, but i was saddened to see one of the city's best menus ravaged so soon after opening. I am reminded of what was one of the best things i've ever eaten -- the pork belly BLT at Cork's. Supposedly they switched the pork belly for applewood smoked bacon because people complained that the original was too fatty.
I talked with chef Patrick a few weeks ago. They are planning on changing up the menu weekly based on sourcing and season. My favorite tacos have been the pork cheek and tongue and beef heart combos.
I would recommend his fried chicken- it's an airline cut- the chicken is deboned, the dark meat is wrapped around the white meat and its fried so that the skin is crispy- no batter. It's served sliced, and the meat is so juicy and delicious.
His charcuterie plates are good, and he's trying to make more of his own pates and cured meats in-house. I would recommend the bacon jam.
He mentioned that he's interested in more nose to tail fare. Had an amazing venison heart tartare there a few weeks ago.
I am very pleased with what he's trying to do, but they already have made that switch, I just found the change from a really deep menu to a few weekly specials disappointing. There were a lot of things on the old menu that I was anxious to try again (that spring salad accompanied by a light as air whole deep fried quail was one, and it was nowhere to be found).
I would have liked to see some balance -- a regular menu accompanied by a list of weekly specials. But the old menu just vanished.
I really like this place, even more so because it's a block away from my house. I think in some ways it's an important restaurant for Baltimore. Even though it doesn't get a lot of notice for some reason, they always seem to be busy.
I'm a sucker for a good charcuterie, and they do some good ones.
We went last month and were half-impressed. When I say half, I literally mean "half". For every good point, there was a disappointment.
Bad: Cloyingly sweet cocktails from their drink menu
Good: Server's first suggestion for a wine was from the bottom third of the price spectrum and was fantastic.
Foie gras two ways -
Bad: Cold side was like eating a block of butter (and about the same size). No toast points or crackers to cut the richness of the texture. We could take no more than two bites.
Good: Warm side was sublime. Perfect portion size, great sear, lovely accompanient.
Veal chop entree -
Bad: The sides were bland and too heavy for a warm June night...completely forgettable. They would have been more appropriate in February.
Good: The veal chop itself was well seasoned, juicy and delicious.
Tacos two ways (yes, only two) -
Bad: Corned beef tongue tasted like the cheapest, nastiest roast beef I'd ever had in a high school (make that elementary school) cafeteria.
Good: Beef cheeks were wonderfully beefy and the pepper salad *made* the dish.
Strawberry-rhubarb pie -
Bad: It was all crust. The individual lattice pie was a nice presentation, but it was 95% crust, 5% filling.
Good: The filling. It was great...wish we had more.
I'm not yet ready to return to Blue Hill. For my money (which includes the price of a babysitter), the place has to get it right more than 50% of the time.