The setting for Silo.5% Wine Bar is Silo Point, a glamorous luxury condominium carved out of a former working grain terminal in Locust Point. The complex is surrounded by the remnants of industry, and even from the ground floor, the views of the freight lines and the working harbor are stirring.
On its best day, peninsula-bound Locust Point is one of your more remote Baltimore neighborhoods. With the Fort Avenue bridge under construction, it has taken on a lost-colony feel. Right now, that's part of the attraction for Silo.5%, which still has the allure of a secret despite being open for about six months.
To their credit, the staff at Silo.5% seem aware of the effort patrons have made to get to it. We arrived without reservations but were treated as though they had been looking forward to our arrival with pleasure. Options were laid out clearly for us — we could proceed directly to our table or wait at the bar for our friends.
Chic and contemporary like 13.5%, its parent restaurant in Hampden, Silo.5% Wine Bar is the kind of stylish place you want to dress up for, and people do. But it's not essential. Nor does the staff overdo the glamour stuff. They're allowed to be friendly and kind.
The food from chef Robert Blake fits right into the program. His menu of starters, pizzas and main plates is accessible, with few attempts at showing off or imposing an ego — Blake's name isn't even included on the menu. The results from his kitchen are similarly easygoing. The food is there to be enjoyed, not to stop your conversation to admire it. The happy effect of that is that diners are free to have a good time.
Everything looks, tastes and behaves like good cafe food, which is not the same as a cunningly designed wine-bar menu. You kind of wish it were, at least a little more, and that Silo.5% pushed everything a little further.
The menu doesn't suggest wine pairings. There's not really anything about the menu that connects to a wine program at all. The wine list may be a labor of love, but it reads impersonally, with neither tasting notes nor an introduction to its scope or purpose.
The menu of hand-crafted cocktails, on the other hand, is loaded with personality — a Pink & Tan, made with rye, strawberries and ginger beer, a Cactus Rose, concocted from tequila and pomegranate liqueur. That's the way things are now.
The food has its arresting moments. A plate of baked stuffed dates is a high point. Stuffed with almonds and blue cheese and wrapped with prosciutto, the dates arrive warm, sweetened by a honey-pomegranate syrup. It's a perfect, wholly considered dish from start to finish, and the dates deliver a punch of flavor. Topped with tender butter-poached lobster and flavored with brandy, the papardelle plate is another winner, layering the thick ribbon-y pasta with roasted leeks, sweet peas and forest mushrooms.
The flatiron steak, seared with chili peppers, works just fine. Fourme d'Ambert is a fresh idea for a steak's blue-cheese topping, while the basil aioli is a lovely presence on the plate.
But other dishes pull up just sort, and you feel like they need a finishing touch — a sprinkling of coarse salt, maybe.
An appetizer called Just Avocado is a cool idea. A halved avocado is left intact but sliced for easy removal and accompanied by a salad of heirloom tomatoes and a cilantro-lime salsa and fresh, crispy masa chips.. The same goes for a dish of edamame that the menu says is finished with a shiitake mushroom sauce. That touch doesn't take. The pods don't take on the flavor of the sauce they're swimming in.
It feels like something is missing, too, from a promising calamari appetizer, in which the squid have been coated with graham-cracker crumbs under a tempura batter. They're served with a sweet-chili cilantro sauce that sounds sharper than it tasted. You want a little bit of acid to offset the sweetness of the graham cracker coating.
You sometimes wonder why places bother with pizzas when they don't have the equipment for it. The margherita pizza here has wonderfully fresh and aromatic toppings, but the thin crust is soggy.
The service, for all of its enthusiasm and concern, pulls up short occasionally, too. The first course arrived without our having been given any plates or flatware. At a venue where sharing is encouraged, if not the norm, we got tired of telling the food-runner that we were all sharing the food we ordered and asking for little plates.
Yet another absence of a finishing touch at Silo.5% is the dessert course, the sum total of which is a vanilla creme brulee and a dark-chocolate Chambord mousse served with marinated cherries and whipped cream. You want more choices, and more from the choices you have, which are no better than serviceable.
But this nagging sense that something was missing at Silo.5%, this wanting something more, is the kind of thing that happens when you show up at a place to review it, instead of just to enjoy it.
The truth is, we had a great time at Silo.5%. Ask to sit on the upper level for the best views, and enjoy them and yourselves.
Silo.5% Wine Bar
Where: 1200 Steuart St., Locust Point
Contact: 443-438–4044, silo.5winebar.com
Hours: Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday
Prices: Appetizers, $7-15; entrees, $9-19
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[Key: Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Fair or Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]