Hampden Hawker: Monday Restaurant Round-Up!

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday Restaurant Round-Up!



Be kind, Hawker's not a food writer, and as her current reading is Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires, this is becoming even clearer to her.

1. GRANO
Hawker tried Grano (the new pasta bar at 1030 W. 36th a while back.) They were just getting started, so things still seemed earnest, but in need of some tweaking. The final verdict is good, but not great. The place looks adorable. The simple paint job out front and the spruce-up inside make Grano cozy and welcoming. There's a bar with maybe 10 seats or so, and a few high tables laid out around the edges of the restaurant; the window table, FYI, is the bomb for Hampden peoplewatching. The service was friendly, and the prices are reasonable. (See the menu above.) However, the pasta is dried (not fresh,) and the sauces are good, but not great. The garlic bread was indeed garlicky, but more like my midwestern Mom would make (again, still good,) but not like you might expect from a real Italian. My dining companion did enjoy the meatballs.

Grano seems perfectly poised for takeout though, and for under four dollars, you can get some of their sauce for takeout. Add a couple of extras, go home and boil your own dried pasta, and you've got a quick dinner that's far cheaper than going out (Total: $10-$15) and can fool anyone you're cooking for into thinking you're actually cooking.

2. DOGWOOD
Hawker also hit the Dogwood on Friday night, and once again, the place failed to disappoint. The food there is truly inspired and after two fantastic and fresh meals in a row, I'm convinced this place is one of Baltimore's gems. (My dining companion finds the decor a little 1970's California and prefers the Woodberry Kitchen, but Hawker respectfully disagrees.) Things that sound odd (beet and cabbage risotto) taste new and perfect in Galen Sampson's hands. The honey-graham Sylvan Beach ice cream is also Hawker's new favorite flavor. The service is exemplary and honest, and Sampson was recently featured on CNN because of his commitment to his other venture: Chefs in the Making, a culinary training program that offers jobs and education to people who've been homeless, incarcerated or have struggled with addiction.

3. ROCKET TO VENUS
Then, Hawker dined at Rocket to Venus Saturday night. Hawker loves this place, and a recently received break-down of VISA expenses from 2007 will serve as evidence to prove this, but the food hasn't inspired her the way it has others. Salad was good, Dangerously Delicious Pie was fine, but vegetarian entrees there leave her cold. The Szechuan Noodles felt like they'd been sitting for a while, and the tofu was way overcooked. My dining companion, however, had a shrimp linguine that was so delicious, however, that she was tempted to drink the broth left in her bowl after she'd eaten everything practically edible. I feel like I just don't get R2V's food like everyone else does, but I'll keep trying. What I do like about R2V, however, is when the waitress came back to take my hardly eaten entree away, I did say that I didn't like the dish. I was nice, and I expected nothing. I think I said that it just wasn't to my taste, and not only did she offer to bring me something else, when the bill came, I saw that she hadn't charged me for the dish. So R2V gets a nod for thoughtful service.

4. MCCABE'S
Elizabeth Large likes McCabe's a lot, though she's concerned about prices.

Ok, Hampdenites, discuss!

10 Comments:

At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd probably rate Grano higher than you did. I have been about six times already. I find their sauces to be delicious. The Gorgonzola walnut is nice and stinky, the pesto is fresh and I had a great lump crab one on Friday. Their spicy sauces were too spicy at first but they have assured me that it has been toned down. Apparently there was a mix-up with their pepper order. Yeah, it'd be great if they made their own pasta but it's not a deal-breaker for me.

Most people seem to treat R2V as a hipster joint with booze, booze, booze and an odd selection of snacky foods. I don't. I only go occasionally and when I do, I order the most expensive thing they can bring me - usually some sort of daily special. I have never been disappointed. I've had duck confit, some sort of roasted pork and a filet with blue cheese and crab meat. These people can cook.

I've never eaten inside Dogwood, but find its carry-out overpriced.

 
At 2:51 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

I prefer dried to fresh pasta. Fresh pasta gets too mushy too easily.

But I rarely order pasta when I go out to eat. Still, can't wait to try it!

 
At 3:57 PM, Blogger Miss Ruby Ruin said...

See! This is why a variety of restaurants is a good thing.

The truth is I thought Grano was good--just not exemplary--and I'll definitely be back. It's a prime example of the importance of bringing something new to the neighborhood, rather than imitating what's already there, and I hope Grano is a grand success!

Plus, trust me: look at my VISA bill and you can tell that I'm actually a fan of R2V. I think, however, that though it has a vegetarian friendly menu (and Hawker is a vegetarian,) the real food stars there are the meat-based dishes.

 
At 5:55 PM, Anonymous hj said...

i'm glad you have had so many positive experiences at the dogwood. while i love their carry-out sandwiches, i must say that my trip to their dining room last year was overpriced and service was underwhelming and maybe it deserves a second look?

R2V is not my favorite place. i have been served cold fries twice (which i do not think is an avant-garde on-purpose thing), the drinks are tiny, and the color scheme off-putting. i think i only return because you and others are such fans and sometimes one needs a change that one can still walk home from. if it was in any other neighborhood i don't think i'd ever go at all except to run into you!

 
At 9:37 AM, Blogger adam miller said...

I had an excellent experience on my first visit to Dogwood last Friday. The "Duet of Lamb" was very well conceived and executed (though the cannellini beans in the ragu were a bit under cooked); the wife's Halibut was very tasty as well. I found the service very attentive and informed, and eager to give suggestions. The prices seemed to match the fare. It's nice to have an upscale option on the Avenue. I have to agree that the atmosphere at Woodberry is head and shoulders above Dogwood, but the food at Dogwood is much more impressive.

I have really dug R2V since it opened, and still do, but with the exception of a few go to items (the Pork dumplings, fried oysters, beet salad and wimpies) the food has been a bit hit or miss in my book. With that said, I keep trying the specials because the "hits" are well worth it, and the prices make the "misses" not so bad.

 
At 10:08 PM, OpenID jazzometer said...

I'd add pierogies to the R2V short list, Adam, but otherwise, I agree . . .

~j.z.

 
At 2:24 PM, Blogger John said...

Only been to R2V and Dogwood. I do love both places (despite R2V's occasionally poor service), but Suzie's is still my favorite Hampden eat spot.

 
At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In general, I love R2V and think it is a great addition to the neighborhood, but a couple of recent experiences have left me a little more hesitant about it than I used to be. First, there was a nasty waitress who overcharged us and then was less than apologetic about her mistake, and then--I hate to have to share this with people--an order of beloved wimpies with PIECES OF PLASTIC STRAW cooked into them! No, I am not kidding. They were very apologetic, but still, it was really nasty. Their excuse was something about packaging, but frankly, I didn't care at that point..Needless to say, I haven't ordered them again.

 
At 12:08 AM, Anonymous tomtom said...

Went to Grano today and I'd say the portions are all too small, the soda comes in cans with plastic cups (they could at least pore it into a glass in the back room), and they don't accept credit cards, but hopefully that will change someday soon. Most importantly the sauce was totally delicious and I'll definitely be back to try every pasta combination they offer.

 
At 8:49 PM, Blogger The Daily Breather said...

I went to R2V a few weeks after it opened. It was word of the Brussel sprouts that brought me in. Best I've had. But the special: Tuna steak with wasabi mayo on noodles, nearly killed me. Instead of wasabi I got a great ring of mint jelly surrounding the plate. It ruined everything and the noodels were a cold mop. It was dark in there, it really coulda been a mop.
But they represent the cheap Genesee Cream Ale so I'll be back...after dinner.

Cheers

 

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