Since it opened in a great Towson location in November 2009, the 7 West Bistro Grille has become a popular lunch destination for lawyers and other professionals working within walking distance. As it happens, Towson doesn't have many places for a sit-down lunch at a reasonable price, so 7 West fills a need.
This is a restaurant trying to do a bit of everything. The menu includes American — hamburgers, chicken tenders, ribs and salmon — as well as Mediterranean fare like stuffed grape leaves, gyros and grilled octopus. Some are tapas-style small plates, and some are full-on entrees, complete with two sides.
It's trying to be a lunch spot, a dinner destination and a late-night watering hole, complete with live music on some evenings and dancing to DJ'ed music later on. It's also adding weekend breakfast hours, with all-you-can-drink mimosas and bloody Marys. And it has happy hour specials during the week.
All this effort is not necessarily a bad thing, but it gives 7 West a lack of focus, making it the restaurant equivalent of a politician that tries to please everyone without having much of a point of view.
My impression is that the space is so large that the owners are trying everything in their power to bring in paying customers. The site was once home to a Sunny's Surplus store, part of an outdoor supply chain that has since gone under. Then it became Blue Grotto, a lounge and restaurant that didn't last long. Now, it's gussied up with a leopard-print rug, elaborate chandeliers, seating on multiple levels and a centrally located bar that can seat about 75.
During our visit, the room, which can probably seat close to 300, was not crowded, but it was far from empty, an impressive feat in itself on a weekday afternoon.
Our meal had pluses and minuses. The best thing we tried was a simple garden salad topped with a generous scoop of shrimp salad. The shrimp were plump and whole, lightly coated in a flavorful, creamy dressing. The greens were fresh. The worst was an appetizer of stuffed grape leaves, which arrived in a pool of olive oil. A large pool. Though the stuffing of meat, rice and spices was satisfying, the oiliness of the dish was just too much.
A "small plate" of lamb chops delivered three small, tender and flavorful hunks of meat, served with small tub of tzatzaki, the tangy Greek yogurt sauce. So far so good. The problem was the presentation. They were wedged onto a small plate with sloped sides, making them almost impossible to cut.
We wanted to try desserts, but our server brought the bill without asking if we wanted coffee or anything sweet. A shame.
One of the owners, Boyko Tachkov, told me he had worked for years as general manager at the James Joyce Irish Pub and Restaurant in Baltimore. Another partner had worked in a Cuban restaurant. When Blue Grotto closed, he said, they saw an opportunity. "Towson needed a good restaurant," he said.
With a bit more focus, 7 West has potential to become that restaurant. But it's not there yet.
Where: 7 West Chesapeake Ave., Towson
Hours: Open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 2 a.m.
[Key: ✭✭✭✭: Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]