What a nice dinner that was at Bistro Blanc. We enjoyed beautiful and well-constructed appetizers, perfectly cooked entrees and scrumptious desserts. And we just plain enjoyed ourselves at this wine-focused Glenelg restaurant.
When Bistro Blanc opened in 2008, it was promoted as a wine bar that also served food. It was meant to be a place where wine lovers would congregate, work their way through a well-considered wine collection and avail themselves of a high-tech, self-service wine-dispensing system. If they got hungry, they could order a small plate or two.
It didn't quite work out that way. The food was too good. The opening chef was Marc Dixon, who had built a following at Iron Bridge Wine Co. His original Bistro Blanc menu featured small plates — this was 2008, after all —but they were supplemented with full-on entrees. Soon enough, people began to think of Bistro Blanc not as a wine bar but as a showcase for Dixon's food.
Just after the new year, Dixon left Bistro Blanc. He is now the executive chef at Bond Street Social and its forthcoming sister restaurant, Barcocina, which is opening soon on Brown's Wharf in Fells Point. His replacement at Bistro Blanc is Janny Kim. Kim is a chef to watch. Not all of Bistro Blanc's current menu is his — there are some holdovers, the things that people have been ordering from the start. But the specials are Kim's, and it's where we focused our attention.
That's where we found an early-season rockfish, which Kim coats with pancetta breadcrumbs, cooks perfectly and garnishes with alluring bits of spring — translucent threads of watermelon radish and shimmering green dots of wasabi-flavored flying fish roe.
The rockfish entree was a dazzler, but the simple, hearty dishes were also impressive, like a small plate of seared shrimp and chorizo over creamy polenta, in which every bit of flavor had been trained out of the sausage, and a beef Bologonese that testified to the kitchen's ability to construct a perfect demi-glace. The demi-glace that strengthened the outstanding beef Bolognese shows up again in a grilled rib-eye entree, which also showed off a spring-green and very satisfying macadamia gremolata.
Small plates deliver both intense flavor and visual delight. A sterling foie gras appetizer is brightened up with cracked pink peppercorns and slivers of crisp Granny Smith apples. For the oysters and caviar appetizer, oysters are taken from their shells, dotted with red fish roe, suspended in a blood-orange mignonette and served in bone white sipping cups.
We tried a few time-tested menu items, Bistro Blanc signatures dishes like the Pig 'n Fig, a nestlike gathering of citrus-braised pork shoulder and fresh figs served on a toasted brioche and sweetened up, just a bit, with a moscato-vanilla froth.
Another regular menu item, the "wonder crusted" cobia amandine, is a delight. The delicate almond crust and a lovely beurre blanc made from almond and coconut milks were ideal treatments for the firm and flavorful cobia, which isn't a well-known fish but should be.
For dessert, there are fully thought-out, rewarding creations like a streusel-topped apple tart with apple caramel ice cream, a warm chocolate ganache bathed in creme anglaise and, for a real treat, a bananas Foster bread pudding with rum caramel sauce.
Bistro Blanc is a lovely and relaxing place to dine. The music plays softly. The flatware and glassware are solidly made. We quickly forgot we were dining in a strip mall, too. With its crimson walls and sturdy furnishings, Bistro Blanc has an easygoing, clubby elegance about it.
We had glitch-free, smooth service, the kind that often shows up in restaurants with talented kitchens. The servers know diners will enjoy what they serve them, and it gives them confidence.
According to owner Raj Kathuria, Bistro Blanc still attracts a wine-bar crowd, who still make use, even during dinner hours, of the lounge area on the far side of the main dining room.
When we told Kathuria, after our visit, that we barely noticed the wine lounge, he wasn't surprised. He's grateful that Bistro Blanc has become a dining destination. But he did want people to know that Bistro Blanc still takes its wine seriously. He's proud of his wine cellar, which he keeps stocked with rare finds, and of his everyday wine list, which is particularly well-organized and approachable.
Still, at the end of the day, Bistro Blanc is a restaurant, and a very good one.
Where: 3800 Ten Oaks Road, Glenelg
Contact: 410-489-7907, bistroblancmd.com
Open: Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers: $11-$13; entrees: $23-28
Food: Contemporary American cuisine
Service: Helpful and informed
Parking/accessibility: Lot parking
Children: No children's menu
Special diets: Servers will make recommendations and the kitchen is prepared to make accommodations
Noise level/televisions: Normal conversation is fine throughout the small dining room, with quiet music playing. There is one small television in the bar area.
[Key: Superlative: 5; Excellent: 4; Very Good: 3; Good: 2; Promising: 1]