Restaurants located in major hotel chains have a specific challenge. Their offerings need to be broad enough to appeal to travelers, and ideally, they'll also be good enough to attract locals.
5485 Restaurant & Bar, which opened in June in the newly remodeled space in Columbia's DoubleTree Hotel, has the potential to do both. Though the service is still working out a few kinks, the kitchen's well-executed takes on familiar favorites are easy to like.
Scene & Decor Earlier this year, the DoubleTree's restaurant space underwent a $1.2 million renovation. The end result is open, soothing and modern, with clean lines, neutral colors and lots of natural light.
During our Tuesday evening visit, the restaurant was not quite half full, with a mix of solo diners, couples and larger groups of what appeared to be business colleagues.
Drinks Our meal had a rocky start when the first two drinks we ordered — both cocktails listed on the bar menu — were not actually available. For our third order, we played it safe with a food-friendly glass of Diseno malbec ($7) and a citrusy Beazly Ale from The Brewer's Art ($7).
Appetizers The restaurant redeemed itself somewhat with an impressive fried oyster appetizer ($11). Fried oysters can be tricky; they're often terribly over-battered. These weren't.
Half a dozen plump oysters, served over greens, were cooked beautifully, with just enough batter to add crunch. Inside, the oysters were warm and juicy.
Each oyster was accessorized with dollops of garlic aioli and spicy chipotle lime sauce. While we don't always appreciate someone else deciding how much sauce we want with our oysters, in this case, it worked. The sauces played well with the oysters' seawater flavor and the proportions were just right.
Entrees Given the restaurant's hotel location, we weren't surprised to discover a menu stocked with safe dishes, like burgers, salads, pasta and sandwiches, with a few crabby nods to local cuisine. After all, weary travelers often just want to order a burger and go to sleep.
5485's basic dishes might not knock anyone's socks off conceptually but they were capably prepared and comfortingly familiar.
A steak salad ($14) was simple but packed with flavor. The steak was cooked nicely, on the rare side of medium rare, then sliced and served over a salad of greens, roasted red peppers, tomatoes and feta cheese.
Both the salad's dressing — a tart champagne vinaigrette — and the steak's savory marinade were well-seasoned and powerful.
Of all the dishes on the menu, the lobster and crab cake sandwich ($14) is most likely to become a favorite among hotel guests, especially those in Maryland just for the night. We were curious, too, about how adding lobster to a traditional crab cake would change the composition of the patty.
The answer, we discovered, was that the lobster altered the texture more than the flavor; the lobster's meat seemed spongier than the delicate crab. We had to focus, though, to discern between the tastes of the two shellfish.
On top, a red pepper coulis was a tangy, and tasty, stand-in for cocktail sauce.
Ultimately, we liked the cake, its shiny brioche bun and well-seasoned side of fries (and its reasonable price). In fact, most of 5485's prices were lower than we might have expected, given the neighborhood and the hotel lobby location.
Dessert For dessert, we opted for a square of warm bread pudding drizzled with raspberry sauce ($7). Like the rest of the meal, it didn't deviate from the norm. But also like the rest, it met our expectations in a comforting way.
Service Unfortunately the service, starting with those unavailable cocktails, wasn't as impressive as the food. Our waiter didn't quite have the hang of the menu yet, which resulted in a few awkward back and forths as he made sure he had our orders correct.
The kitchen's pacing was good but at the end of the meal, we sat for too long while waiting for the check. During dinner, another table's waiter popped by to check on us, but our assigned server was mostly absent.
He didn't say it, but we got the impression our waiter was new. Despite his inexperience, he seemed nice. Given that, and the good food, we left rooting both for him and for everyone at 5485.