How far can you get on charm? If you're a person, just as far as you want to go. If you're a restaurant, you may have to work a little harder to have the world at your feet.
Bistro 300 has charm. The Hyatt's mezzanine level cafe was once the Trellis Garden, but that restaurant's sumptuous, seductive, whipped-cream-and-orchids brand of romance has been replaced by a light-hearted, almost Parisian feel, and its water garden set off by auburn wood, striped awnings and a colorful mural of antique Baltimore cityscapes.
The menu looked extraordinarily promising, too. Hotel restaurants really do have to appeal to everyone, bicoastal or heartland, and the Bistro's trim little menu offers roasted breast of chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy alongside such ethnic New Americana as charred tuna carpaccio, warm Wisconsin goat cheese salad, lemon calamari and Chinese roast duck with shiitakes. And the service is swift and courteous.
So why weren't we wowed? It must have been the food, which was nice without being at all memorable.
The kitchen was unfortunately fresh out of that tuna carpaccio, but the quesadilla ($5.25), was the hit of the meal. Chunks of smoked chicken with a rich, distinctive flavor, mellow grilled red onion, and melted cheese had been sandwiched between flour tortillas, cut in wedges, and served with petite scoops of chopped tomato salsa, sour cream and guacamole -- fern-bar fare, maybe, but thanks to that smoked chicken, special.
The chicken gumbo ($3.50), though, was little more than a glutinous tomato soup, which not only lacked the traditional okra (doubtless a plus, for some), but was scant on vegetables and spices other than oregano.
The grilled lamb steak ($13.75) was a hearty blue plate special kind of dinner. A Midwestern mom could have made those mashed potatoes, roasted tomatoes and green beans. And a mom could also have overcooked the meat. It was a bit too gray for "medium," but had a fine flavor nonetheless.
Before entering the bistro, I had sighed over the description of a special, a prawn dish involving garlic, red-pepper puree and feta cheese. I got the prawns, but the dish bore a closer resemblance to the grilled gulf prawns ($13.75) on the menu than to the special. The shrimp were fine, but there were only four of them, and the creme-fraiche-sauced penne pasta lacked spark -- though certainly not calories.
Dessert? We tried a soupy "upside-down apple pie" with cinnamon-laced vanilla ice cream and a dauntingly dense baseball-sized coconut macaroon drenched in chocolate sauce -- both sweet and simple but lacking in finesse.
Where: Hyatt Regency Hotel, 300 Light St.
Hours: Open daily for breakfast 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., lunch 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Credit cards: AE, CB, D, DC, MC, V.
Features: American dishes, light fare, international cuisine.
Non-smoking section? Yes.