Regions is a place for adults. (In fact, the website pointedly says there is no kids' menu.) The burgundy walls and white-tablecloth atmosphere is comfortable. Timbered ceilings and wood floors help offset a style reminiscent of an airport hotel, as does a youthful, accommodating staff. Two dining rooms, one with a small bar, are both thoughtfully arranged with enough space between tables to allow for easy conversation.
Regions' dullish name and distractingly baroque concept made a bad first impression. But I was surprised by how much I liked it. Each one of the seven "regions of cuisine" is represented on the seasonally guided, locally sourced menu by at least one small and one large plate. The styles are Maryland, Asian, Cajun, French, Italian, Southwest and American classic comfort.
The menu changes monthly. I think it's OK for you to laugh here. It sounded misguided and impractical — why put a fledgling kitchen through the paces of learning a new menu every month? Do customers expect or even need this much variety on the menu?
The reality of an evening at Regions betrays much more sensible heads. Yes, the menu changes, but customer support and satisfaction will help determine which menu items are held over and, eventually, incorporated into a permanent menu. And when you're at the table, unwinding with your own bottle of wine (Regions is BYOB), enjoying warm and crusty rolls served with honey butter, the menu selection seems not so much chaotic as eclectic, or even generous. And when the food shows up, and turns out to be consistently appealing in composition, execution and taste, it's time to unclench and simply enjoy yourself.
Already, after only about five weeks, the menu's layout has been changed for the better. Instead of all plates, big and small, being grouped by region, the menu is now divided much more sensibly into small- and large-plate sections. Listed separately are sides and starters. I like to see a restaurant responding quickly to an issue. It shows that customers and staff are being listened to and egos aren't standing in the way of progress.
Among those starters, which includes one soup and salads, is yet another changing menu item, the grilled flatbread. On our visit, it was topped with provolone and asiago cheeses, blue crab, roasted corn, baby spinach and local tomatoes. It was recommended, and it's thoroughly terrific, a confidence builder. The crispy, oil-brushed crust indicates an attentive kitchen, and fresh, quality toppings dispel doubts about the restaurant's commitment to good ingredients.
A superbly done appetizer places plump oysters in a rich Pernod cream sauce with sauteed spinach, pine nuts and bacon. It couldn't be better. I'm not sure a fried oyster dish belongs in the French category, and I definitely wouldn't call it, as the menu does, Oysters Rockefeller. But I wasn't thinking about any of that when I was licking the plate.
I loved the ridiculously rich garlic-butter sauce that supported an appetizer of blackened scallops and a buttermilk biscuit. A Maryland crab cake appears as both an entree and an appetizer, and I'm not sure it's doing Regions any favors. I liked its seasoning, and the accompanying remoulade and creamed corn, but I think at least every other person who orders it will find its consistency too creamy, as I did.
I'm not sure the "comfort" category makes any sense. There are plenty of comfort items on the menu, and having to fill a category leads to a misfire such as Region's version of chicken pot pie, a lightened-up, puff-pastry version of the classic without any of the saltiness and cornstarchiness that makes it so satisfying.
A potential snoozer such as barbecue-glazed salmon gains interest with stir-fried vegetables and fried rice. I like how Regions isn't pandering to the sauce-on-the-side crowd. It's worth circling the Beltway for one of the early favorites, an ancho chile-rubbed steak, served with chipotle and bleu cheese smashed potatoes and sugar snap peas.
Dessert is a tidy, five-item affair — things such as cheesecake and pot de creme, yes. And then a doozy, the Xango, a fried, caramelized, stuffed ice cream concoction that rarely works elsewhere, but does here.
There were some glitches along the way. Even nice, enthusiastic waiters should have the menu down pat. Not knowing what the red things are in the (excellent, by the way) mac-and-cheese is not good. A $5 corkage fee should earn customers smoother wine handling, at least a wine bucket for a bottle of white. By the end of the evening, though, these missteps seemed minor.
Where: 803-805 Frederick Road, Catonsville
Contact: 410-788-0075, regionsrestaurant.com
Dinner: Tuesday through Sunday
Service: ✭ ✭✭
[Key: ✭✭✭✭: Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]