The Chasseur is a likable enough tavern. Think of it as the kind of place where you can sit down for a good square meal of well-prepared comfort food and then, if you're feeling perky, spend some time at the adjacent bar with your friends and neighbors.
There's potential for The Chasseur to be more than just likable. Given time and effort, The Chasseur could develop into something even better — a winning tavern. Here we're talking about a place you'd work into your schedule, maybe spread the word about, or, if it's really special, keep it to yourself.
For now, we'll take likable. After a brief but rocky run as Adam's Eve, the corner Canton property that was once The Crossroads appears to be in good hands.
The new owners, led by David Tobash, have made a series of good first moves, beginning with the appealing new name. A Baltimore-built schooner, the Chasseur was heralded as "The Pride of Baltimore" for its heroic exploits in the War of 1812. That nickname, of course, was chosen for the 20th-century reproduction ship, and its successor, which have been such successful goodwill ambassadors for Baltimore.
They've also given the interior a good going over. Their most notable improvement is the installation of windows in the bar, which fixes what had been a cave-like atmosphere. The adjacent dining room is attractive in a standard-issue, quasi-nautical way. Natalie diFrancesco, the tavern's co-owner and general manager, who was also serving as the waitress when we visited, told us that down the road they will be making further improvements, like taking out the drop ceiling.
Still, the room needs to shake off its just-passing-through look, and sooner rather than later. Sometimes a half-measure is better than none at all.
They found a chef, Sean Praglowski, formerly of Blue Hill Tavern, who has good common sense about creating a manageable menu for a new kitchen. It consists of about eight appetizers and eight entrees, along with a few sandwiches, salads and soups. Any more and you'd worry about consistency; any fewer, and you'd get bored real fast.
At first glance, the bill of fare, especially the appetizers, looks overly familiar but Praglowski is adept at mixing his pitches. He shores up that old standard, the inevitable crab macaroni and cheese with good, sharp aged cheddar cheese and then applies a healthy dose of Sriracha hot sauce, which gives it both eye appeal and a boost of flavor. And he combines two enduring tavern-food trends — the hashed-brown nugget and duck-fat frying — into a very tasty appetizer of duck-fat tots, hot and crispy croquettes served with a cool avocado-ranch dressing.
For a tuna tartare taco appetizer, Praglowski uses a single slice of thick tuna in each taco, which is an interesting idea — usually, the tuna would be chopped — but not ultimately a convincing one. You don't end up with the intensity of flavor this way.
The entrees come fully plated, with vegetables and potatoes or rice, which makes their prices, between $17 for spaghetti and meatballs and $27 for filet mignon, very reasonable.
The entrees that got our attention were comfort-food favorites like buttermilk fried chicken, meatloaf and sour-beef short ribs. The sour-beef dinner was, DiFrancesco told us, apparently a favorite at the old Crossroads, and the new owners wanted to make the old neighbors feel at home.
Praglowski is dressing up comfort food just enough to make it look like restaurant food without overdoing it. So the meatloaf, made from veal, pork and aged beef, is formed into a medallion the size of a hockey puck, perched gently on a disc of mashed potatoes, topped with a tart tomato-bacon jam and encircled by roasted brussels sprouts. And the crispy, juicy fried chicken is presented in four just-about-bite-size pieces on mashed potatoes and served with crispy haricot verts and a honey-mustard sauce flavored with natural juices.
The sour-beef short ribs packed some good vinegary flavor, but the meat itself was on the tough side. The dumplings, though, were admirably light.
Dessert is barely there. When we visited, the choices were a bread pudding and fried "Twinkies" and a brownie sundae.
Most of what we saw was encouraging. If The Chasseur isn't compelling, it's because things feel tentative, as though the owners were afraid they might hurt someone's feelings. The best restaurateurs know they can't please everybody.
Consider that The Chasseur is at a crossroads. Will it be likable or will it be winning?
Rating: 2 stars
Where: 3328 Foster Ave., Canton
Contact: 410-327-6984, thechasseur.com
Open: Dinner daily and brunch on weekends
Prices: Appetizers $8-$11; entrees $17-$27
Food: Upscale tavern food
Service: Personable and prompt.
Best dishes: Buttermilk fried chicken, sour-beef short ribs, duck-fat tots
Parking/accessibility: On-street parking
Outdoor: The owners plan to apply in the spring for an outdoor seating permit.
Children: There are menu items that children would like but not a children's menu.
Noise level/televisions: The main dining room is quiet; noise from the adjacent bar is not a problem. TVs in the bar are on without sound, except during Ravens games.
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very Good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun