B Bistro remains cozy, reliably creative

For The Baltimore Sun
B Bistro's newest chef had big shoes to fill -- and they fit quite nicely.

B Bistro has been a beacon in Bolton Hill since 2003 with its clever twists on American food. In the past three years, the restaurant has been through several chef changes. We thought it was time to stop by and see what B’s newest chef, William Weaver, is creating in the kitchen.

He recently jumped from Pen & Quill in Station North, another restaurant owned by the Karzai family. Weaver is continuing in his predecessors’ culinary footsteps at B (officially called B — A Bolton Hill Bistro) with creative new American cuisine using locally sourced products.

There’s a welcoming vibe as you step into the cozy corner bistro with its windows outlined in tiny lights. Not much has changed over the years — it feels like a visit to a reliable old friend.

A signature chalkboard with specials and black-and-white photos on the walls offer a casual, albeit refined, ambiance with cloth-covered tables, banquettes, white-tile floors and mood-setting votive candles.

Our only dismay is the tightly packed tables, which may cause personal boundary issues. Logistics are a problem, too — it can be difficult to shimmy into the seats against the wall unless you have the agility of a stretchy comic-book superhero. Once ensconced, you’ll be fine.

The restaurant is known for its eclectic wine list. A French sauvignon blanc and an Italian teroldego by the glass were the beginnings of a beautiful meal for us. For those into brews, there is a well-rounded selection of craft and imported beers.

The warm housemade focaccia puts you in a good mood to peruse the menu. We began our meal with succulent fried oysters in a crisp cornbread coating. The morsels were set atop a gooey bed of bacon-flavored mayonnaise that was surprisingly good. A drizzle of piquant tomato mostarda capped off the dish.

Our arugula salad avoided cliché with soft confit potatoes and grilled pickled onions that enhanced the peppery greens. A “slow” egg provided a glistening splash of runny yolk.

A classic Caesar got an update — Tuscan kale dotted with croutons and a shower of Grano Padano cheese made for a good adaptation.

The mushroom gyoza looked as wonderful as it tasted. Four delicate dumplings topped with aromatic tarragon were positioned like a pinwheel in a warm broth of beet dashi with thinly sliced radishes floating in the bright pink liquid.

Another innovative starter was the plump, pan-seared scallop sandwiched between two barbecue-glazed pork bellies, each the size of a card deck. The contrasting flavors of seafood and meat worked well. A baby arugula salad on the plate, tossed with sherry vinaigrette, was a suitable palate cleanser.

We also liked what the chef did with the entrees. A whole roasted trout, served deboned and reassembled with its crispy skin, captured a taste of the Mediterranean with couscous, Kalamata olives and orange segments. Braised ribbons of fennel enhanced the dish with a mild resonance of licorice.

We also liked Weaver’s simpler treatments. A pan-seared arctic char came with beets, fingerling potatoes and a swath of dilled yogurt, and a skirt steak, hailing from Roseda Black Angus Farm in Monkton, with champ (an Irish buttery mashed potato dish), roasted Brussels sprouts and a rich stout demi-glace.

Desserts showed creativity. A round of chocolate mousse was encapsulated with a peaked swirl of meringue that needed a tap of the spoon to reveal the pudding surprise. A swipe of pear Riesling sauce gave it a fruity note.

A blondie square was a sweet cakelike base for a ball of salted caramel ice cream from Taharka Brothers. The delicious mound was crisscrossed with rivulets of sticky butterscotch. And Taharka’s pistachio ice cream fills a need for a light, refreshing finish.

The new chef is continuing a long tradition of serving innovative food from B’s open kitchen that ranges from basic to whimsical. Weaver had big shoes to fill — and they fit quite nicely.

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B Bistro

Rating: 4 stars

Where: 1501 Bolton St., Bolton Hill

Contact: 410-383-8600, b-bistro.com

Open: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. brunch and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. dinner Sunday.

Prices: Appetizers, $7 to $14; entrees, $14 to $30.

Food: New American.

Noise/TVs: Noisy when crowded; no TVs.

Service: The servers are pleasant and reliably creative.

Parking: Street.

Special diets: Can accommodate.

Reservation policy: Accepted.

[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]

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