Last week was not a good week for fine dining along Charles Street in the Mount Vernon area.
First came the news that Ixia was closing, which it did on June 26. Then the building that houses the Brass Elephant - once known as the most beautiful restaurant in Baltimore - was put up for sale. The Brass Elephant remains open.
In an ideal world, said Randy Stahl, one of the owners, the building would be sold but not the business. The restaurant and catering company would become a tenant, make improvements like putting in an elevator and a first-floor bathroom, and would try to hold on until the economy improves.
But if someone wanted to buy the building, the restaurant, the catering business and the liquor license?
"For the right price," Stahl said, "it's available."
Finally, we learned that Neo Viccino will be closing July 3 and reopening as a sports bar.
Neo Viccino wasn't literally fine dining, but it didn't just serve bar food either, and concertgoers enjoyed its imaginative bistro fare before a performance.
Buffalo wings, anyone?
The most immediate permanent loss, though, is Ixia. When it closed its doors Friday, Baltimore lost something rare and strange. Dinner at Ixia was dining out as performance art. You walked in and felt you were on a stage set - the lofty ceilings, dark blue walls, gold-leaf columns, filmy curtains and dramatic pop art paintings.
Luckily, the New American cuisine created by executive chef Kevin Miller lived up to the setting and more. When I last reviewed it four years ago, I gave our meal 3 1/2 stars.
"If you like your food as theater," I said in my review, "Miller delivers a bravura performance."
Given that the atmosphere was every bit as important as the food and service, it's not surprising that the spokesman for Ixia was David Briskie, an interior designer and close friend of the owner, Un Kim.
I asked him if the recession was why Ixia closed. Ixia was very expensive - and not quite in the right neighborhood to be that expensive.
"In part," he said. "But we did what we wanted to do here. It's time to move on. We decided to close not for any one particular reason."
I asked where Miller would be going; Briskie said the chef hasn't made any decision yet. However, Brendan Dorr, the beverage director and frequent bartender at Ixia, has been hired as head bartender at the B&O; American Brasserie, scheduled to open later this summer.
With its $15 martinis and edgy attitude, Ixia was a polarizing restaurant. Some people hated it, some loved it. If you were one of the latter, look for the restaurant's cookbook, due out this fall. It sounds as if it will be as much a coffee table design book as recipe source.
Annapolis additions If you had to pick a couple of restaurant concepts that were sure bets for Annapolis in this economy, what would they be?
I'm guessing you said a) a seafood restaurant and b) a steakhouse.
Michigan-based Mainstream Ventures Inc. agrees with you. It's just opened the Real Seafood Company Restaurant and Sushi Bar and, right above it in the Annapolis Towne Centre, the Chop House.
The Chop House is a classic upscale chain steakhouse with a couple of interesting differences on the menu like beef Wellington (I haven't seen that in years) and a roasted rack of venison. Entrees top out at $43.95 for a Kobe rib eye.
The Real Seafood Company is a bit more moderately priced, with most of the seafood dishes under $25. The parent company may be Michigan-based, but, of course, there's a Maryland crab cake on the menu.
The Chop House is modeled after a 1940s hotel dining room, while Real Seafood is going for a more contemporary look, with terrazzo floors, an interior waterfall, and suspended wall dividers.
Reservations can be made at the same number for both restaurants: 888-456-3463.
Real Seafood is open 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.
The Chop House is open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Quiet closure I found out by accident that Mealey's in New Market closed quietly a couple of months ago. It was a favorite place for antique-hunters and daytrippers. The cozy dining room in a former inn had a lot of old-fashioned charm, a good crab cake and a nice Sunday brunch.
Mealey's, which had been around since the early 1900s, was about as close as Frederick County came to having an iconic restaurant.
Deal of the Week
The Deal: Mini-burgers and Buffalo chicken sliders for $1, S'mores for $2
Where: Birches, in the bar or outdoors
641 S. Montford Ave., Canton
When: Monday through Thursday