The Baltimore Grille is a pleasant surprise: an uptown restaurant tucked into a corner of the Omni Hotel with a bold menu, soothing surroundings and warmly solicitous service.
The food is good, too.
Indeed, The Baltimore Grille, which opened in September, seems to be taking its place among a new generation of hotel restaurants that courts local diners, as well as the in-house trade, with serious food and service.
The Baltimore Grille is one of two restaurants the hotel has fashioned from its former dining room/bistro Jacqueline's. The more formal Grille has about 20 tables fanning out from "the grill," an open kitchen where entrees are prepared.
Next door is the casual, bright Jackie's Cafe.
We were surprised to find The Grille at least half-full on a rainy Wednesday. And, indeed, the hostess said most servers were busy because of the unexpectedly big crowd. While we waited, she brought water and menus and took our cocktail order.
The menu takes time. On one side are the "Winemakers Dinner" and "Dining on the Edge," two four-course dinners with each course matched to a wine. Each dinner is $39.95.
On the other side, are the a la carte items. Oh, but wait, any of the courses in the fixed-price meals can be ordered a la carte, too.
We decided to go a la carte, starting with a Caesar Salad for two ($8.50). The salad, meticulously prepared at the table, was heavy on the Worcestershire. It was a very good Caesar, but the Worcestershire dampened the other, traditional tastes.
Next, my husband had a filet. I chose the Shrimp Parmesan.
The filet is one of three steaks, all "Certified Angus Beef." That means, according to the American Angus Association in St. Joseph, Mo., that the cow must be predominately Angus, that the meat must have a deep, cherry red color and that both the lean and the marbling must be finely textured. Processing and distribution must be done by registered companies.
Given this pedigree, how was the filet?
It was good. Not Midwestern good, but certainly Eastern good. However, it had been so seered on the grill that it was almost charred. Such treatment adds a flavor that makes it difficult to judge -- and appreciate -- the taste of the meat. The filet was also on the small side, especially for $18.95.
My shrimp, we both decided, was better than the filet.
Seven large shrimp fanned out from a scoop of rice in the center of a pewter plate (all the dishes are pewter). Covering the shrimp was a delicious sauce of lemon, capers and Parmesan. It was an unusual combination of tastes, mainly because of the strength of the cheese, and unusually delightful.
We had three vegetables: Asparagus with Hollandaise, The Grille Potato and Creamed Spinach ($2.95 each).
The perfectly steamed asparagus spears were bathed in a sauce that was both lighter and more flavorful than most hollandaises.
The potato was sliced and seasoned with bacon and spices in a sinfully rich cream sauce. For lunch, it would have made a delicious main course.
The spinach was bland.
We skipped dessert but took home a piece of good looking Chocolate Mousse Cake ($3.95). It was a disappointment; neither the cake nor the mousse had much taste or texture.
With two drinks, two glasses of wine and two coffees, the bill came to $84.47.
When the Grille succeeds, it excels. When it doesn't, the result is blandness. There was nothing bland about the service, however. Everyone we encountered seemed well trained and sincerely determined to please.
*** The Baltimore Grille
The Omni Hotel
101 W. Fayette St.
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday through Saturday, 6 to 11 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: Separate areas in one room.