Barrett's review

An 8-ounce filet topped with gorgonzola cabernet sauce, served with au gratin potatoes and the chef's vegetable of the day Barrett's Grill. (Perna, Algerina, Baltimore Sun / January 10, 2012)

Barrett's Grill, in Hunt Valley, is attractive and polished enough to qualify for night-out dining, but there's nothing fussy or intimidating about it.

This is the restaurant at Hunt Valley Towne Centre that opened back in 2005 as Greystone Grill. Its name change came with a change in command: The property's three new owners consist of one Mike Sipes and two John Barretts — a father and son.

Together, they have lowered many of the menu prices while sticking with Greystone's basic formula, which essentially delivers a casual suburban version of the glossy steakhouse experience. The service is pitch-perfect — professional but friendly. Not charging extra for salads and side dishes always did add up to savings at Greystone Grill; the new lower prices make Barrett's an even more attractive option, and burgers and sandwiches are available during dinner hours, too.

There have been only minimal changes to the signature Greystone Grill design, whose main features are an expansive use of field stone and a diagonal room divider that serves as both additional banquette seating and a platform for bonsai trees. If you can't quite picture it, just know that it's a smart way to break up a big room.

The menu, a mix of Greystone holdovers and new items, amounts to an introduction of all-American upscale dining favorites, things like ahi tuna, grilled salmon, Chilean sea bass and New Zealand rack of lamb. People like them, which is why you see them so often. The menu's fail-safe option is labeled From the Grill, which offers a choice of four steak cuts along with a few optional finishes.

Barrett's may not offer diners a culinary adventure, but the kitchen executes most of its menu with confidence and occasional flair. Among the four appetizers and four entrees we tried, two were clear standouts — a ribs appetizer and a lamb entree. Coated with pleasantly peppery barbecue sauce, the lean and juicy meat on a half rack of slow-cooked ribs fell off the bone exactly as promised. The grilled rack of New Zealand lamb, prepared with a Cabernet sauce, was meaty, fresh tasting and full of natural flavor. Both were presented handsomely — everything is at Barrett's — and were an absolute pleasure to eat.

After these, there is a slight but meaningful falloff in appeal. Salads come across as space-fillers. The Caesar salad has little taste of pepper, much less anchovy, and the blue cheese crumbles on an iceberg wedge are too mild.

None of the remaining appetizers or entrees were bad, just not thoroughly engaging. An appetizer of tenderloin skewers falls flat. Served with a peanut sauce, the chunks of meat have dark and deep entree-like flavors when you want them to wake up your appetite with bright and peppery tastes. Buffalo calamari delivers some nice zippy heat, but the squid is cooked until it's mushy and the blue cheese dressing is lackluster. Bacon-wrapped scallops, an old Greystone appetizer, seems tired. Served on baby spinach sauteed in a citrus beurre blanc, the scallops have little flavor of their own and the bacon isn't crispy enough.

Among the remaining entrees, there are things to admire about "filet napoleon," of beef medallions, roasted potatoes, spinach and onions. A bone-in pork chop entree was tasty and juicy in parts but dry in parts, too. It was topped with the chef's featured sauce, a heavy-going fruit compote that didn't do it any favors. The beef in a Filet Napoleon is especially tender, if a bit overwhelmed by a port wine reduction. But the dish feels half-finished, missing the precise layering that makes a napoleon out of meat and potatoes.

The most expensive menu item we tried, a $32 Chilean sea bass, was the least successful. The fish itself had no flavor of its own, just texture, and a potato "encrusting" was just a slice of potato; the horseradish dill-caper sauce was bland.

If there's cause to wonder about some of the menu items, there are none about the wait staff, which is alert, good-humored and agile in equal measure. I especially liked how smoothly our server delivered a timely alert about the 20-minute preparation time needed for a certain dessert, one of those volcanic chocolate things that always turn out to be pretty good. Barrett's version, the Molten Chocolate Lava Bomb is full of explosive chocolate flavor, topped with cooling ice cream. The creme brulee is the kind that's more like a pudding, but has redemptive vanilla-bean flavor.

Barrett's is a good choice if you're trying to come up with someplace to meet another couple whose culinary tastes you're not sure about. On a recent weeknight, when Barrett's was running a wine special and a jazz ensemble was playing, there was an uplifting feeling of diners being treated well. The menu still needs pruning, but the new owners are off to a good start.

richard.gorelick@baltsun.com

Barrett's

Where: 118 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley

Contact: 410-527-0999, barrettsgrill.com

Hours: Lunch and dinner daily

Prices: Appetizers, $6-$14; entrees, $15-$32

Food: ✭✭1/2

Service: ✭✭✭ 1/2

Atmosphere: ✭✭✭

[Key: Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭ ; Good: ✭✭✭✭; Fair or Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]


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