Luckily for us, Cyrus Keefer got tired of taking the train down from Philadelphia to see his fiancee in Sparks, so he decided to move to Baltimore. Keefer is the executive chef of the new Brasserie 10 South (10 S. Calvert St., 410-528-8994), but you might have eaten his cooking when he was the sous-chef under Kevin Miller at Ixia in Mount Vernon or the chef who opened Saute in Canton.
At the beginning, Keefer says, his new place was set up to be a restaurant like Red Maple - that is, as a nightclub dining room. (The nightclub is Lux, above the ground-floor brasserie.)
"We've almost changed things 100 percent," Keefer says, since the restaurant opened Jan. 6. "I said, 'I don't know anyone who wants to go eat in a nightclub. We're going to be in trouble here. Let's just be what we are.' "
The place is now much more a dining room and less a place for drinks and nibbles. The New American menu will change seasonally, but keep its core, so that the dishes customers particularly like won't disappear.
There will be Weekly Features, smaller portions of items on the menu for $18, which will be available for both lunch and dinner. That might be, for instance, roast leg of lamb with creamy polenta.
Dinner entrees cost between $14 and $26, and each night there's an inventive vegetarian three-course meal for under $20 that Keefer is particularly proud of.
Keefer describes the look of the restaurant as "minimalist" and subdued, with cherry-stained wood and white, off-green and tangerine colors. "We kept it simple," he says. A little lounge area overlooks the open kitchen.
The dining room seats 70, the lounge 20 and the bar area 25 to 30.
Brasserie 10 South is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch Tuesday through Friday and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for happy hour Tuesday through Saturday, with dinner being served from 5 p.m. until close.
Price dip When I reviewed the Brass Elephant (924 N. Charles St., 410-547-8480) and its new chef, Andrew Maggitti, last May, I was taken aback that entree prices ranged from $27 to $36. That seemed a little high, even for as nice a restaurant as the Brass Elephant is.
How time and a recession have changed things. Mount Vernon's most beautiful restaurant has a new chef, Marcus Olson, and a menu with entrees that now cost $25 or less. This is basically what two other fine-dining restaurants, Corks and the Bicycle, have done. If you believe three's a trend, we have a trend here, folks - one that benefits diners.
Olson is a native of Seattle and most recently ran the kitchen of the Bull Run Restaurant and Conference Center on New York's Wall Street. His new menu is a departure from the northern Italian food of the Brass Elephant's last chef.
Olson's culinary style is described on the restaurant's Web site this way (take several deep, calming breaths): "classic cuisine items are deconstructed and then re-built from a totally modern perspective."
At least he has a sense of humor. A typical dish is the Peppercorn Quail Envies Duck (Celeriac & Louisiana Crawfish Hash).
As for the new prices, I don't want to get you too excited. While it's true that $25 is as expensive as entrees get, it's also true that all the entrees are $25 except for a stuffed chicken breast ($23) and a stuffed portobello mushroom ($19).
Recognition The Mobil Travel Guide awards are out, and Cindy Wolf's Charleston is the only restaurant in Maryland to be awarded four (out of five) stars.
We do have several three-star restaurants in Baltimore, including the Black Olive, Cinghiale, Della Notte, Ixia, Pazo, Ruth's Chris, Oceanaire Seafood Room and the Prime Rib. These are all certainly deserving, but I would feel better about the awards if Mobil hadn't given two or three stars to three local restaurants that are now closed - especially considering that the guide rated only 24 Baltimore restaurants.
New steakhouse If you had to pick one restaurant that you felt Baltimore was desperately in need of, I bet it would be another high-end steakhouse. (That's a joke, everyone. Please don't write or call.)
Still, America loves its steakhouses, and we are getting another one, Sullivan's at 1 E. Pratt St. It's scheduled to open in early February. This 17-location chain calls itself a 1940s Chicago-style steakhouse, by which it seems to mean martinis, live jazz and entrees like the signature dish, a 20-ounce bone-in Kansas City strip. That's a lot o' beef.
Deal of the Week If you think Baltimore Restaurant Week is a deal, and for the most part it is, how about this? Todd Conner's (700 S. Broadway, 410-537-5005) in Fells Point is offering what it calls a Restaurant Week Alternative, half off all entrees at both lunch and dinner this week. The crab cakes, for instance, are $12 and the chef's steak, $10.
It's in recognition of the fact, co-owner Nikki Popovich says, that many people don't really need three courses.
For more specials, including $5 lunches for the month of February, check out the restaurant's Web site at toddconners.com.