First impression: It's 8 o'clock on a Saturday night and the 2-month-old M Bar is … well … empty. Meanwhile, the spot next door is packed. It puts a damper in what we'd hoped would be a fun night at this new "global tapas eatery" with a farm-to-table aesthetic.
Background: The "M" in M Bar is from Jack Mancini, the restaurateur who operated Mancini's just down the boulevard for almost 10 years before closing it to launch this new concept. The opening chefs left M Bar, and new chef Kevin McCarthy, most famously from Armadillo Cafe, is now in charge of the kitchen.
Ambience: Mancini went to New York City's Meatpacking District for the industrial-inspired interior of M Bar, which sits on a prime corner spot on the eastern end of Las Olas. An exposed ceiling and brick walls do give the place a bit of a renovated factory feel, even though this has long housed a restaurant. The night we dined, the lights were too bright and were finally dimmed more than halfway through our meal.
The menu: While the menu takes its inspiration from around the world, the execution feels amateurish. None of the flavors is particularly authentic, so you end up with watered-down versions of foods most sophisticated eaters can see right through. Because of these quality issues, some prices seem higher than they should be. The menu is divided into four categories: bar snacks; small; medium; and flat bread and pizza.
Starters (bar snacks and small): Fried chickpeas ($5) with chilies and lime are good, but not particularly crisp. Crispy pig ears ($5) with an aioli made with togarashi, a spicy Japanese spice mixture, are limp (anything but crisp), over-salted and pretty much inedible. We return a dish called himachi crudo ($8), described as "miso butterscotch, shaved cucumber, frozen coconut." We were fearful of the warm temperature and the fact that what we thought was going to be raw hamachi tasted like warm smoked fish. Four-to-an-order deviled eggs ($4) had good flavor, but the whites of the eggs are overcooked and rubbery. Indian spiced chicken wings ($9) were nicely seasoned, but they were accompanied by something that tasted like ranch dressing. Why not riff on classic Indian cucumber raita? Spicy tuna tartar ($8) — with sriracha aioli, cucumber, cilantro and sesame wonton crisps —was better than most of the dishes we tried. We were intrigued by spicy sea beans ($6) with garlic togarashi aioli, but the aioli had separated and curdled.
Entree excellence (medium and flat breads): Fried chicken watermelon salad ($14) with feta, pea greens and sweet tea vinaigrette failed on many levels. At $14, you expect more than four cubes of blandly breaded boneless chicken and four cubes of watermelon. It lacked cohesion since neither the feta nor the vinaigrette brought the disparate elements together. Braised Kobe short rib ($15) in a dark chocolate-stout reduction has a nice earthy flavor, but at $15 you expect more than one boneless short rib. Grilled octopus ($13) with creamed hearts of palm in garlic sauce was exceptional. Hearts of palm are too often found only in salads. Vine-ripened tomato flat bread ($10) with two kinds of tomatoes, basil and parmesan had a chain restaurant quality.
Sweet!: Something called Nitro ice cream sandwich ($9) ought to be served with a pickax. The double chocolate chip cookie sandwiched around liquid nitrogen peanut butter is as hard as a rock. What's up with that? Luckily, tiramisu ($9) was on the special menu and this beauty, with just the right amounts of soft cake and flavored cream, satisfied our sweet tooth.
Service: Quite good.
Liquid assets: Spectacular beer list and inventive cocktails.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun