Gadsby's, new in Columbia, needs some more time to settle in

There are hopeful signs, but the new restaurant needs to assert its own identity

January 25, 2014|By Richard Gorelick, The Baltimore Sun

The British-born chef Robert Gadsby carries an impressive resume, complete with apprenticeships under world-famous chefs, executive chef positions at acclaimed restaurants in Los Angeles and Houston, and even an appearance on "Iron Chef America."

The latest stop for the well-traveled chef is an out-of-the-way Columbia office park, where he has opened Gadsby's Bar American in a space that was formerly a Greystone Grill, one of several that operated in Maryland.

On a Saturday night in January, when the place was crowded with diners — some of whom were taking advantage of a restaurant-week promotion — Gadsby's kitchen and staff were clearly struggling to keep pace.

The meal certainly suffered. There was a long gap in between the pasta and entree course, and our stamina, and interest, flagged.

I saw, and tasted, enough good things from the kitchen to persuade me that Gadsby was a chef worth knowing. I loved the peppery heat in a minted cilantro pesto that was folded, with a creamy celery root puree, into a bow tie pasta dish. And I was impressed by the foie gras appetizer, which Gadsby served, nervily and successfully, with a tangy barbecue sauce and prettified with a scattering of peeled grapes.

Plump dumplings, stuffed with a savory mix of ground shrimp, chicken and mushrooms, are accompanied by a trio of tasty dipping sauces. Brought to the table in a bamboo steaming basket, the dumplings made an engaging and filling appetizer.

There was more good news early on, beginning with a specialty cocktail, the Cigar Lover's Manhattan, that was brought to the table under a glass dome. When the dome is removed, a smoky, woody aroma is released into the air. It's an attention getter.

But whether it was because the kitchen was distracted by a special restaurant-week menu or because unexpected crowds showed up, the kitchen hit a wall with the entrees.

Of the four entrees we tried, I can only recommend a barbecued lamb shank, which had a pleasing texture and good flavor.

I knew as soon as I saw the size of the pale hunk of chicken on my plate that it was going to be dry inside, and it was — very dry, and underseasoned, too. The pieces of fish Gadsby's used for the fish and chips entree were the size of fresh anchovies but without their briny flavor. Their coating was bland, too. The fries were not hot, crispy or salty enough.

I think I would have liked the cider-stuffed flank steak more if the menu had better described its preparation. I was expecting it to be served in slices. Stuffed with a melange of chimichurri-flavored green tomatoes, the steak was too thick and had too little cider flavor.

Still, I can see how this dish can work, if the kitchen is on its game. I can see, too, how, the mini-vegetables served with the entrees would be more satisfying if the kitchen had time to roast them more thoroughly. They were underdone at our dinner.

I'll admit to losing interest by the dessert course. A double chocolate fondant cake was OK. A mixed berry and coconut trifle was tasty, but it was served, not in a parfait glass, but in an Irish coffee glass, which, as it turned out, was the only thing that really annoyed me. Sometimes it's the little things.

Gadsby took over the Greystone space Nov. 1 and has so far left Greystone's decor and furnishings mostly intact, although he has announced plans to make interior changes, including a community-dining table near the open kitchen. But for now, diners will easily recognize Greystone's signature suburban chic touches: the wine vault, a liberal use of fieldstone, and that room divider that doubles as banquette seating and a platform for plantings.

In the best of all possible worlds, you could argue, it might have been better for Gadsby to make a clean break from Greystone, to come in and overhaul the interior spaces and reopen with a brand-new menu and concept.

I might not have gotten the best possible look at a chef's work. Gadsby will have to make sure his kitchen and staff give his food a better showcase.

Gadsby's Bar American

Rating: ✭✭

Where: 8850 Columbia 100 Parkway, Columbia

Contact: 410-715-4739, gadsbysbaramerican.com

Open: Dinner Monday through Saturday; lunch Monday through Friday.

Prices: Appetizers: $10.50-$16; entrees: $19-$32

Food: Creative American bistro fare.

Service: Cheerful but overwhelmed on a busy night..

Parking/accessibility: There is ample parking in an adjacent lot.

Children: There is not a children's menu, but the kitchen will accommodate children.

Noise level/televisions: Normal conversation is fine in the main dining rooms. The televisions in the bar are not visible from the dining rooms.

Special diets: The kitchen will accommodate special dietary requests.

[Key: Superlative: ✭✭✭✭✭; Excellent: ✭✭✭✭; Very Good: ✭✭✭; Good:✭✭ ; Promising: ✭]

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