The most satisfying dinner isn't always the biggest. Some nights, there's nothing better than a huge glass of wine and a couple small plates.
John Liberatore, part of the Liberatore family that owns five eponymous restaurants in the Baltimore area, agrees. Frustrated by the lack of wine and tapas bar options in Baltimore County, Liberatore opened Liquid Lib's last November in a space adjacent to the family's Timonium location.
With good food and a festive atmosphere, Liquid Lib's is already a hit with the locals, who seem thrilled to have a new small plates spot in the county.
Scene & Decor Liquid Lib's space formerly housed a title company, so a complete renovation was necessary before opening. The result is appealing but a little overwhelming. The space tries to be a lot of things all at once.
For guests looking for a sophisticated evening out, the flashier parts of Liquid Lib's decor — like the eye-catching bar lit with a pale blue glow — will be a plus. Other elements, like wine barrel tables and a working fireplace, capture the cozier, more rustic side of the wine scene.
During our visit on a cold but crowded Tuesday night, a third personality emerged. Above the happy chatter of our fellow diners, top forty pop music blared over the speakers. Though the average age of the crowd appeared to be a fair amount older than Katy Perry's usual demographic, no one seemed to mind. Still, the middle-school music felt incongruous in the decidedly grown-up space.
Drinks After settling in at a low, wood-topped table, we started with a Vesper ($10.75), the James Bond-inspired mix of vodka, gin and Lillet. Well-balanced but potent, the drink was a bracing start to the evening.
Liquid Lib's wine list is reasonable and approachable but not wildly experimental. A glass of Paul Mas Malbec ($11), a bright and fruity red from France, was a good match for the food.
Appetizers The majority of Liquid Lib's menu is small plates, plus charcuterie and cheese board options and a handful of pizzas. A trio of dishes gave us a glimpse at the kitchen's take on both hot and cold foods.
Arancini — fried rice balls with roots in Sicily — have been popping up on menus all over the area. The version at Liquid Lib's is one enormous ball, succinctly called "rice ball" on the menu ($6.95). Crisp on the outside but creamy in the center, studded with peas, the rice ball was well-seasoned and nicely complemented by a bright marinara sauce.
A cold octopus salad ($10.95) was a minor letdown. It wasn't terrible but we wished the chunks of octopus were smaller and more tender. Though well-seasoned with salt, the dish also would have benefited from more acid.
Spying the mini ossobucco ($11.95) on our table, a waiter leaned in and said, "That is the best thing on our menu." He was right.
The braised lamb, served alongside root vegetables, was savory, saucy and satisfying. The meat was tender and earthy, a lovely match for our big red wine and a smart addition to the menu.
Entrees We could have easily filled up on small plates but didn't want to miss trying a pizza cooked in Liquid Lib's stainless steel, gas-powered pizza oven. From the short pizza menu, we opted for the "gringo" ($10.95), a pie topped with pepperoni, sausage and jalapeno.
The crust was chewy and appealing, the sauce tangy and the ingredients fresh. But following the ossobucco, with its elegant sauce and gently cooked lamb, the pizza seemed a bit unsophisticated.
Dessert A plate of four small macarons ($7.95), tiny pastel sandwiches of delicate meringue and sweet cream, were a crunchy and cute way to end the meal.
Service Timing can be tricky in the land of tapas but Liquid Lib's handled our meal with aplomb. We ordered all of our food in one big rush but it arrived staggered, as it was ready.
Our only complaint was that our first round of drinks took longer than necessary to arrive. But once we got into a rhythm with our waiter, everything came in a timely fashion.
The wait staff was personable, too, the kind of friendly people who can make a night more fun. And for us, that's exactly what they did.
Back story: In November 2013, John Liberatore opened Liquid Lib's to fill the need for a fun, upscale wine and tapas bar in Baltimore County. Located adjacent to the Timonium location of his family's eponymous restaurant, Liquid Lib's focuses on small plates and pizzas designed to be enjoyed with a glass or two of wine.
Parking: Lot in front
Signature dish: The mini ossobucco, made with lamb, is heady, rich and tender. The portion is small but it packs an intense, meaty flavor punch — a wonderful match for big, bold reds.
Where: 9515 Deereco Road, Timonium
Contact: 410-666-8466; liberatores.com
Open: 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday (bar may stay open later)
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Accepted for parties of five or more
Bottom line: With an accessible wine list, good food, personable service and a thoughtfully designed space, Liquid Lib's covers all the wine and tapas bar bases.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun