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Tapas with a view at Sky Azure Cocktail Lounge at BWI

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Dinner and drinks at the airport, even when you don't have a flight to catch? That might not be as crazy as it sounds.

Sky Azure, a small cocktail and tapas lounge in the new observation gallery at BWI Airport, has potential as a fun lunch or happy hour spot for anyone in the airport area — even if you don't need to keep an eye on gate assignments. With a brief, but appealing selection of seasonally driven small plates and friendly, efficient service, Sky Azure raises the bar on the airport dining experience.

Scene & Decor The newly renovated Observation Gallery, which opened in mid-July, is located outside of security — so no pat downs or body scans for you — on the level above Concourses B and C. In addition to aviation-related exhibits, the Gallery offers clear views of the runways.

Tucked into one end of the Gallery, Sky Azure is a petite space dominated by a curved bar. The restaurant is open to the Gallery. This is no escape from the airport, but the open design means Sky Azure customers can watch planes or check out exhibits without leaving the comfort of their bar stools.

On a recent Tuesday, the space was nearly empty, with a couple road warriors sharing drinks before takeoff. That could change, though, with better signage. We had trouble finding the restaurant; the man working behind the information desk even admitted he wasn't sure exactly where the new Observation Gallery was located.

Drinks The emphasis at Sky Azure is on drinks; the menu of handcrafted cocktails, craft beers and wines is thoughtful and interesting. A classic Caipirhina ($11), the lime-based Brazilian cocktail, was bright and refreshing while a la verdad ($11) — a blood orange and prosecco drink — struck the right balance between citrusy and sweet.

Appetizer-Entrees Sky Azure's food menu is brief, only seven small plates, and will change seasonally. The dishes are traveler-friendly; quick to prepare and consume.

We started with a simple, bright salad of grilled watermelon, spinach, goat cheese and tomatoes ($4.95). Several large chunks of ripe watermelon were grilled just enough to char the fleshy fruit, dressed with a balsamic reduction. The sweet watermelon and tangy cheese were a great pair.

An order of housemade guacamole ($6.95) was chunky and fresh — we imagine this will be a popular item. The recipe was classic (avocado, onion, tomatoes and spices) and the chips were crispy and light. We prefer our guac a tad bit spicier and saltier, but Sky Azure's version is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

The heartiest dish on the menu was the roast beef crostini ($5.95), a trio of bread slices topped with roast beef, a few rings of caramelized red onion, crumbled gorgonzola and a squiggle of horseradish cream. The meat's tender texture was a pleasant surprise, though we would've appreciated a heftier hand with the onion and cheese.

The tuna tacos ($7.95) were one of the more adventurous menu items; they were also our favorite. Three small wonton-shell tacos, stuffed with chopped raw tuna, snow peas and scallions, were dressed with an intriguing combination of Sriracha sauce and orange zest.

The mix of citrus and spice was a good one — though logistically, the tacos were a mess. After one bite, they fell apart and onto our plates.

Dessert Sky Azure's dessert menu includes classics like key lime pie, tiramisu and our selection, the chocolate "marquise" ($4.95). A small pile of chocolate cake and thick mousse, covered with whipped cream and large chocolate curls, was sweet and rich enough, without overdoing it. It held no surprises, but was quite likable.

Service In an airport, efficient service is key — and that's exactly what we experienced at Sky Azure. Our waitress kept an eye on our table, filling our water glasses and quickly bringing each course as we finished the one before. She was personable, too, joking with the other diners and with the bartender; it was the kind of service that would be welcome after a long day of travel.

Bottom Line There was a time when airport dining was about as appealing as airport security; restaurants like Sky Azure are changing those perceptions. Though the short menu doesn't deliver any wild creativity, its consistent and well-balanced approach to seasonal dishes provides a welcome respite or even a new reason to visit the airport.

Sky Azure

Back story: Recently opened as part of the new Observation Gallery, located outside the security gate, near Concourses B and C, Sky Azure is a little corner of sophisticated food among a sea of airport-friendly chains. Aero Service Group, which operates several other restaurants within the airport, developed the Sky Azure concept specifically for BWI's new Observation Gallery space.

Parking: Lots surrounding airport

Signature dish: The tuna tartare tacos - three crispy wonton-taco shells filled with chunks of tender raw tuna - are familiar but fresh. Dressed with spicy Sriracha, crunchy scallions and a dusting of orange zest, the tacos are bright and fun with interesting texture and an appealing citrus twist.

TVs: Two

Where: Observation Gallery (pre-security) at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport; 7426 New Ridge Road, Hanover, MD 21076

Contact: 410-850-4846

Open: 11 a.m. to about 9 p.m. daily

Credit Cards: All major

Rating: 2.5 stars

Reservations: Not necessary for smaller groups, but all or part of the observation area may be reserved for groups.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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