Over the past year or two, the big hotel chains, Marriott included, have been rethinking and revamping their properties' restaurants. Guiding these redos are several somewhat overlapping ideas, most of which are in play at the Yard, the recently renovated restaurant at the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards.
The first of these ideas has to do with an embrace, at least on the surface, of seasonal, sustainable and local cuisine. Local purveyors like One Straw Farm, Prigel Family Creamery and Stone Mill Bakery are listed on the Yard's one-page dinner menu, and the new draft beer lineup includes taps from Heavy Seas, Du Claw Brewing Co. and Union Craft Brewing.
There is also an attempt to make the new hotel restaurants feel like a genuine part of the city they're located in.
The Yard, at the back of the hotel's ground-floor lobby, is now decorated, appealingly, with large-scale graphics of Baltimore images and scenes like rowhouses, the Domino Sugars sign and the Hippodrome Theatre. And when you ask for your check, it's presented in a cleaned-out Old Bay seasoning tin. That's a cute, and harmless, touch.
So is the menu section devoted to "Baltimore Creations," which includes things like crab soup, crab cakes, a crab pretzel (served with Natty Boh mustard) and a pit beef grinder. For dessert, there's a Smith Island red velvet cake and a Berger cookie with malted milk.
And so far, so good at the Yard, which, like many hotel restaurants, is asked to perform multiple duties. It's where guests come for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it's also the property's main lounge area. And, not surprisingly, considering that it's just a few short blocks from the ballpark, it's a sports bar, too.
There are TVs everywhere, even in the dining areas away from the bar. This is not a crime, but if you find the presence of multiple flickering monitors distracting, you'll have a hard time of it here. All that said, the Yard has been designed very well, with a good variety of small, interconnected seating areas.
We had good service here, including a bartender who asked us how we were doing before asking us what we wanted and a very nice waitress who told us how much she enjoyed getting to know everything on the new menu, which certainly reads promisingly enough. There's a generous sprinkling throughout of good-sounding things like roasted radish (with the wild salmon entree), fresh English peas and dried apricots (with the Springfield Farms roasted chicken) and Pennsylvania mushroom risotto (with the Georges Bank sea scallops).
The problems were all on the plate.
I'm as pro-individuality as the next guy, but I'm thinking there's something to be said for consistency, too, and quality control. Food was underseasoned, undercooked, or both, and there's an uncomfortable distance between intent and result.
An appetizer of roasted baby beets, served with goat cheese, crushed pistachios and a grilled lemon yogurt, was pretty, but the beets were undercooked and really needed a splash of salt, pepper or anything. A snack-size portion of deviled egg needed seasoning, too, and so did the scallops, which were also undercooked. The scallops were a shame, too, because the mushroom risotto, salsa verde and roasted fennel that came with it were good ideas.
Only a Chesapeake seafood stew was actively bad, with a burnt taste in its thick tomato broth and a tired, worrisome look to the mussels.
There are hints about how good things could be. An appetizer of grilled oysters, set under the broiler with crab meat and bread crumbs, was a warm, toasty pleasure to eat, with a good dose of carefully preserved "liquor" in each shell. There was a handsome chopped kale salad with carrots, cucumber, avocado and chickpeas that maybe could have done without the super-strong roasted cumin dressing.
Fried rhubarb apple pie sounded like a good idea — I pictured, you know, a pie with apples and fried rhubarbs. But it turned out to be one of those dessert empanada things. I liked the grilled pineapple with Prigel's coconut ice cream and toasted coconut.
I think the Yard has good intentions, but that's not the same as having real feeling.
Where: 110 S. Eutaw St., downtown west
Contact: 410-962-0202, http://www.marriott.com
Open: Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily
Prices: Appetizers $7-$13; entrees $22-$28
Food: Contemporary American fare
Service: Sweet-natured and responsive
Best dishes: Char-grilled oysters with crab meat, chopped kale salad, grilled sirloin steak
Parking: Garage parking is $11 for 3 hours.
Children: A children's menu is available.
Noise level/television: Normal conversation is possible. In some dining areas there are multiple TV screens in every direction, but there is a TV-free side room.
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars ; Excellent: 4 stars; Very Good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun