Topside, the cool bar and restaurant crowning the new Hotel Revival, provides transfixing sights of Baltimore’s stately Washington Monument and other architectural charms of the neighborhood. But those vistas from the 14th floor are just icing on the cake — or in this case, ice cream in the float. More on that in a moment.
Like another welcome newcomer to the rooftop scene, 16 on the Park, Topside gives off a very casual, come-on-in vibe, while showing off a chic, up-market interior design and offering much more than routine bistro fare.
On the two weeknights I stopped by, Topside was doing great business (the noise level can get intense), packed primarily with the young-and-terribly-with-it set. But there’s plenty of room and enticement here, too, for other generations.
The central bar commands attention, and, judging by the traditional martini, Manhattan and old fashioned we sampled, respect.
Starters include oysters, clams and mussels. We tried the mussels, which came in a delectable broth of coconut korma (and a pot so deep it left the contents looking distant and deceptively scant).
A beautifully prepared cucumber crab roll benefited from the snap of jalapeno and spicy mayo (the crab itself tasted too fishy). Winning over our table completely was the vegan Indian “butter” cauliflower. The well-melded flavors in the dressing (coconut kefir, cilantro, ginger, etc.) gave these masterfully fried vegetable bites quite a lift.
Although prices in the upper 20s for some of the entrees don’t seem all that casual, we found good reason to take the plunge.
The striped bass, aka rockfish, shouldn’t have been placed skin-side-up on the plate, but that unappealing view was forgotten the moment we turned over the nicely charred filet and dug into the firm, flavorful fish. Adding charm to the plate were snap peas and little clouds of ricotta gnocchi.
Tender short ribs proved enjoyable, even if the sweet chili barbecue sauce was rather pushy. The accompanying puffed beef chicharrones and marrow aioli underlined the carnivorous character of the dish.
A good burger is essential in a place with such a relaxed atmosphere, and Topside delivers one (at a conventional bistro-y price of $16). The thick patty of excellent beef would no doubt shine all by itself, but kicks into high gear with a dash of tomato concentrate, smoked onion jam, pickles and cheddar. It comes with sterling fries.
As for dessert, I might not order the ice cream sandwich again — the cookies in the one we tried were too hard and bland, but the beer caramel ice cream held rewards — but I would gladly return for the other two options.
The float came in a glass packed with tea ice cream and citrus slices. You get a choice of carbonated beverages, delivered in a separate, petite glass, to pour on top (we chose ginger ale). It all makes for a very refreshing combination. And the churros arrived perfectly fried and cinnamon-y, with an elegant chocolate mole ganache on the side.
Throughout the meal, friendly, solicitous service capped the appealing experience.
By the way, customers can nestle in playtime niches with foosball tables. And for an intimate drink and nosh, there’s the tucked-away Garden Room, done up in light, tropical motifs that further underline Topside’s casual ambience.
Nearby are uni-sex restrooms, which, the night we were there, included several without working locks. The absence of mirrors inside struck us as a far more serious situation, preventing a proper post-meal primp and teeth check. That may be taking casualness a step too far.
Hotel Revival, 101 W. Monument St., Mount Vernon
Cuisine: American bistro
Ambience: Chic, yet unstuffy; noisy when full, yet not oppressive
Service: Smiling, patient, informative
Parking: Valet, street
Special needs: The facility is handicap accessible. The kitchen can accommodate special diets.