The 13th Floor is a treat. When we came here on a Friday night, people were dancing to live jazz music. Can you imagine? One couple, it was announced, had become engaged. You might, too. The renovated interior, which was unveiled last fall, is a real sweetheart. Dominated by deep reds and lustrous whites, it has the shimmery allure of a red velvet cake or a Faberge egg.
The views of the city from high atop the Belvedere were always a reason for visiting, But, pre-renovation, there wasn't much reason to come back, unless you were following one of the bands that played there. The space, which opened in 1978 as the Skyline Lounge, had grown seedy. Now the dismal carpeting and furnishings that made you sad just to look at are gone.
It's all delightful, and the credit goes to Sondra Goad and Bob Persaud, owners of the Belvedere's catering and restaurant facilities, which include the Owl Bar and the 13th Floor. It's not just the decor that's new. The whole space has been reconfigured and reimagined. The bar, which had been plopped in the center of the floor, has been relocated to a corner by the north windows. The 13th Floor is now for adults who like to dress up a little, treat themselves well and listen to good music.
Taking it all in — the views, the velvet and the dancing — you don't necessarily think, "I wonder what they have to eat." But food is part of the program at the 13th Floor, which makes it kind of like a supper club.
The ingredients are there. The swanky bar is well stocked and well tended. The Jazz Age cocktail list is a good mix of the flirty and the rugged. Service is professional, and you can't blame our waiter for having better advice about the wine than the food.
That's because the food is all wrong. You can't tell from the menu, because how would you know that everything would turn out heavy and leaden? The last thing you'd want to do, after eating a few of these plates, is dance. We wanted to sleep under the table.
When the food is very good, such as a slow-roasted pork pot roast, it's heavy going but enjoyably comforting. But when it's overcooked, such as the slow-roasted short ribs, it's just heavy.
The 13th Floor's kitchen is not on the 13th floor, so dishes that depend on quick conveyance are going to be in trouble. That's what happened with pan-seared scallops, which were overcooked and tired by the time we saw them. These were accompanied by a grossly glutinous mass of sweet-pea risotto, which we had ordered as a separate side dish, where it was even more unappealing.
Chicken tikka masala was listed as a small plate, which made you think it would be a cute or cunning play on the classic. But it was just regular old chicken tikka masala, served entree-sized. An appetizer of olive-oil roasted zucchini was greasy and weird, served with a random hunk of cheese and a thick slice of cold focaccia.
There was even a heaviness to the salads. There are two, a baby arugula with lemon garlic dressing, and artisan greens with cabernet vinaigrette. They have different listed ingredients but were similarly coated with too much of what might well have been the same creamy dressing.
A few appetizers are serviceable. Deep-fried oysters, served with strawberry pepper jelly, were plump and juicy. A duck confit with duck-fat fries and plum port jam was good and fatty.
Desserts are either dry affairs, such as a cranberry lemon bar, easy-bake ones, such as a cashew and chocolate torte, or gloppy ones, such as a blueberry and toasted coconut parfait served in a wine glass.
And guess what? We had a really great time — no fooling. Early in the evening, you'll hear a pianist named Tommy Jones on the baby grand. Later, one of several different combos takes over, depending on the night. The trio playing when we visited, fronted by a Sarah Jones, was one you'd happily pay a cover to see. (But you don't even have to: The bar, along with a portion of the dining area, is made available for walk-in customers, on a first-come, first-served basis.)
This place is special, and we stayed for quite a while. Time did drag on between the appetizers and salads, but we felt like stars. Tired maybe, but stars. And we'd have killed for some caviar.
Where: 1 E. Chase St., Midtown-Belvedere
Contact: 410-347-0880, 13floorbelvedere.com
Open: For dinner Wednesday through Sunday
Prices: Appetizers $10-$16; entrees $24-$26
Food: Bistro fare by way of a catering hall
Service: Friendly and professional, with some gaps in menu knowledge
Best dishes: Slow-roasted pork pot roast, deep-fried oysters with strawberry pepper jelly, duck confit with plum port jam
Parking: Valet parking and adjacent paid lot
Children: Children would be out of place.
Noise level: Lively and loud, but the music is wonderful.
Dress code: Caps, shorts, sneakers and flip-flops are not permitted.
[Key: Superlative: ***** Excellent: **** Very good: *** Good: ** Promising: * ]