I was a fan of Marc Dixon's cooking when he was at the Iron Bridge Wine Company six years ago, and I was delighted when he resurfaced last fall at the new Bistro Blanc in Glenelg after a stint at Cafe de Paris. But somehow, other restaurants closer to home kept me busy until it struck me recently that time was slipping away, and I was probably missing a very good meal.
I was right. Bistro Blanc is well worth the trip for Baltimoreans, particularly if you like wine bars as much as I do. The place is more restaurant than wine bar, but wine has a commanding presence. In fact, before I get to the food, I should talk about the drink, which is part of the decor in the same way it is at Iron Bridge.
Bistro Blanc is also a retail wine shop, and one section of the restaurant is filled with bottles. The Web site estimates 300 to 500 varietals, which you can buy and open in the restaurant. There is also the futuristic-looking Enomatic Wine System, which dispenses wines on tap. You can buy a sort of Frequent Imbibers card that lets you try a one-ounce pour, a half-glass or a glass of 24 wines. This must be most interesting to those who eat and drink at Bistro Blanc often. Otherwise it's a bit gimmicky.
Given the looks of the dining room, I'm surprised the restaurant isn't named Bistro Rouge. The walls are a deep tomato-red, hung with funky local art. It's a bright and lively setting, although the live music (a string trio the night we were there) was too loud for conversation.
Apparently, one of the wait staff hadn't shown up that night, which threw our waiter and the busboy into a tizzy. I rarely feel bad for the server when I get poor service, but this was one of those times. He also didn't seem as familiar with the wine list as he should have been, so you might want to ask for the knowledgeable bartender/sommelier if you want to have a discussion.
Chef Dixon's specialty is small plates, particularly ones that go with wine. The menu is filled with appetizers and wine-friendly "Things to Share." I wasn't wild about the fact that we had to pay $4 for a bread plate with tapenade, oil and herb butter. I believe that free bread, as much as anything is free, is a customer's God-given right. But it is authentically bistro-ish of them.
The last thing you expect in this ugly strip mall is a pretty restaurant with the trendiest menu around. I mean, when did you last eat somewhere where the preferred method of cooking was sous vide and there was foam on the dishes? Yes, pea tendrils, truffle oil, tobiko and "Foie Gras of the Moment" are ingredients. But before you decide all this is silliness, you need to admire Dixon's elegant plates and taste just how fine his food is.
Not everything is perfect. A potentially spectacular concoction called "Pig and Fig," with a delicious vanilla-muscato foam, paired a cube of braised pork shoulder with fresh figs over toasted brioche. Too bad our pork was almost entirely fat. We still finished it off. Poached shrimp simply hadn't been poached long enough; they retained that glassy slipperiness of undercooked shellfish. Superb go-withs of olives, roasted peppers and cherry tomatoes saved them.
But lamb cooked sous vide (vacuum-sealed and slow-cooked in a water bath) was juicy, tender and evenly pink throughout. A slightly sweet, citrus-raisin reduction was the perfect sauce for the lamb; and I never realized how elegant ratatouille could be until I tried Dixon's take on it.
Salmon cooked the same way yielded equally impressive results. Its fine yogurt and dill sauce added the kick this fish needs, and couscous and asparagus were simple but just-right accompaniments.
With all its haute cuisine aspirations, this kitchen is also capable of putting out a mighty fine burger, pink and juicy, with a brioche bun, Gruyere cheese and aioli as a mayonnaise substitute. Hot, crisp, salty frites come with it.
I could make a meal on Dixon's crab empanadas with avocado puree alone, but then I would miss the house-made ravioli, tender as a smile and plump with mushrooms, chicken and a bit of foie gras.
If I was ending a meal here another time, I might just order the cheese plate with grapes, walnuts and crackers. But if you want a sweet, Bistro Blanc has a beautiful array. A warm chocolate pudding/souffle the menu calls a ganache has a molten center and comes with vanilla gelato.
I preferred it to the pave, which was like eating chocolate fudge on speed. As with all of Dixon's dishes, there are so many delicious touches on each plate (with the pave, a caramel mousse and creme anglaise), there will be something for you to delight in.
A "simple bread pudding" with lemon curd is just that: simple. Nice, but if you're indulging, I suggest the rose water panna cotta with a fruity sauce instead.
Or you could just finish your meal with a cup of the restaurant's smooth coffee.
Glenelg only seems out of the way to Baltimoreans like me. Howard County residents must be delighted to have another wine bar serving fine food in their area. Now if the wait staff could be brought up to date with the changing wine list and taught not to panic when another server doesn't show, I could recommend Bistro Blanc without any qualification, even with the good wine bars we have right here in Baltimore.
Bistro Blanc Address: 3800 Ten Oaks Road, Glenelg
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, brunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday
Contact: 410-489-7907, BistroBlancMd.com
Food: *** 1/2
[Outstanding: **** Good: *** Fair or uneven: ** Poor: *]
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