We had a fine Friday night dinner Birroteca Bel Air, the 7-month-old restaurant located on Baltimore Pike. Really, Birroteca was just what we wanted after at the end of a hot early summer week. It's just fancy enough to make you feel like you're having a night on the town, but it's comfortable and accessible.

There are sweet amenities from start to finish at Birroteca Bel Air. The restaurant is located in a free-standing building that was formerly a Bill Bateman's Raw Bar & Grill, and there's plenty of convenient parking for diners. That's a bonus, and on weekends, the restaurant even offers a valet parking option.


(Before we go any further, we have to say that Birroteca Bel Air is not technically in Bel Air. It's not in Fallston either, but it's fairly close to both of those Harford County communities.)

Once inside, there is an exceptionally gracious and polished staff waiting to greet you and make you feel relaxed. Just to the left is a dark and cozy bar area with a row of high tables. To the right is a small and narrow dining room, which leads to the main dining room. Music is playing but not loudly.

Birroteca has a terrific beer list, with 20 drafts, all of them from well-regarded regional breweries, and a fun selection of bottles and cans. The cocktail list an impressive mix of the classic and creative. We took right to a "Summer on the Shore," a frothy mix of lemon vodka, watermelon shrub, homemade lemonade and Evolution Craft Brewing's Summer Session Ale.

And then comes dinner itself, which at Birroteca can be something as simple as one of Birroteca's dozen wood-fired pizzas, with their dense crispy crusts and their fresh, superior toppings — things like spicy fennel sausage, duck confit, gulf shrimp and imported Italian meats and cheeses.

Or dinner — with the addition of a savory appetizer and maybe a fresh salad or hearty pasta dish — can be more elaborate. From the appetizers, consider the arancini, which are pleasantly dense fried rice balls filled with provolone cheese and slivers of wild boar. Or the crispy polenta, topped with a savory mix of cremini mushroom, sundried tomatoes and, for a real treat, a perfectly poached egg.

There's another option on the menu, something that Birroteca calls the "family meal," a dish big enough to serve two or more diners, depending on how much other food they're ordering. The family meal changes nightly. On Monday, for instance, it's chicken cannelloni; on Saturday, it's pork ribs.

The Friday special, which we ordered, is a fish of the day. When we visited, it was a succulent and creamy roasted Arctic char, smothered with roasted chanterelle mushrooms. It was fantastic.

When we visited, Birroteca was also offering special steak and pasta dishes featuring chanterelle mushrooms, which our waitress told us had been delivered to the restaurant earlier that day. Of these two, the steak came off slightly better; the mushrooms added some visual delight and texture to a deftly grilled steak. The pasta was just a little bland.

The restaurant was doing nice business in both its bar area and dining rooms. The dining crowd was a mix of families, older folks, and younger couples and foursomes. It was, on the whole, an early crowd; by the time we left at 9 p.m., the dining room was almost emptied. The bar crowd, which was following a Women's World Cup match on TV, was younger, a 20s crowd, and stayed later.

When we first reported that Birroteca was opening a location in Bel Air, we heard from some Harford County residents. They said they were pleased, and a little amazed.

The original Birroteca, which opened just outside of Hampden in the fall of 2012, had a reputation for being a little hip and a little edgy. And the dining scene in the area around Bel Air was known, fairly or not, for being kind of the opposite.

The truth is somewhere in the middle. The original Birroteca, and the new one, are not actually all that trendy. They just do what they do very well. And Bel Air isn't really a sprawling culinary wasteland. There are chains, but there are fine independently owned restaurants, too.

But if you want to think of Birroteca as a bellwether, go right ahead. There appears to be a Harford County audience for the kind of up-market food and confident atmosphere Birroteca trades in.