Is it my imagination, or are restaurants much quicker to pull the plug on a chef or a menu that isn't working in this economy?
A couple of weeks ago, I ate at Meridian 5 4 (845 S. Montford Ave., 410-522-0541) in Canton. I thought the food was very good if a bit complicated, and I bemoaned the fact that the place was so empty.
Why did you never see the review? Three days after I ate there, chef Russell Braitsch left, to be replaced by Tom Friend. Many of the entrees will stay, but the elaborate side dishes have been pared down.
"The accompaniments will be something more universal," Friend said. "They were losing money on them."
There are daily specials to balance the menu's trendiness: one Italian, one Greek and one American dish, plus a "daily catch." Friend mentioned dishes like grilled rockfish, chicken Chesapeake, fish and chips, and boneless lamb with roast potatoes, a far cry from the crisped leg of duck confit, creamed corn soubise and red onion marmalade of the earlier menu.
Meanwhile, you may have read my review of the new Brasserie 10 South (10 S. Calvert St., 410-528-8994). I gave the cutting-edge, French-inspired cuisine 3 1/2 stars, but wondered where the customers were. Sure enough, within days it seemed, Brasserie 10 South turned into B 10 South, serving Southern comfort food like fried oysters, fish tacos, wings, fried chicken and waffles, pan-fried catfish and smothered pork chops. Nothing costs more than $16 except for the market-priced crab cake. The talented executive chef, Cyrus Keefer, has left, to be replaced by his sous-chef.
"I'll pop up again," Keefer told me, "just need to make sure it's the right time and place."
But it was probably a smart move on these restaurants' part. Neither was going to succeed as a trendy fine-dining restaurant in their locations - particularly not when times are tough.
Flexible menu The changes at b Bistro (1501 Bolton St., 410-383-8600) in Bolton Hill can't be blamed on the economy. It has had the same menu for five years and has been very successful with it.
"The new menu has a lot to do with the fact that we're farming now," said Helmand Karzai, the general manager and wine director. The bistro and its sister restaurants, Tapas Teatro and Helmand, get much of their produce from the Karzai family's Fig Leaf Farm in Howard County.
The restaurant needed a more flexible menu to take advantage of the local, seasonal fruit and vegetables, he told me. It will include more appetizers to complement b's ambitious wine program, and house-made pastas will now be available in half portions.
"But the menu won't be dominated by small plates," Karzai said.
Jamie Forsythe, who was the manager of the farm, is b's new chef.
Pairings Jon Kohler has taken advantage of Harford County's "cafe" license, just approved last year, to open Pairings (2105 Laurel Bush Road, 410-569-5006), a new bistro and wine bar in Bel Air. The cafe license allows small places with limited seating to sell beer and wine on and off premises.
Pairings does exactly what the name says: Pairs wines with the food of three areas. The bistro menu is divided into Mediterranean, French/Belgian (Kohler's wife is Belgian) and local dishes.
Kohler described his new place as small and quaint, and having "the best food coming out of Harford County."
Everything is made in-house, from the stocks on up.
When I asked for a signature dish, he couldn't come up with just one, but mentioned the three cheese plates that reflect each area of the menu, the cream of crab soup and a hanger steak au poivre with Belgian fries. Dinner entrees are priced under $20. The wine list, like the menu, is short, moderately priced and thoughtful.
Pairings is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
deal of the week
Where: : Slainte Irish Pub, 1700 Thames St., Fells Point
The deal: : Prime rib for $1 an ounce, 12-, 16- and 22-ounce cuts. Ten dollars off all wines by the bottle with an entree.
When:: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday nights
Call: : 410-563-6600