The premise behind Stone's Cove Kitbar, a new restaurant in Owings Mills, is that people at a party tend to gather in the kitchen, where they are kept entertained and diverted by watching their host prepare dinner. Why not, thought B.J. Stone, the CEO and founder of Stone's Cove Kitbar, create a restaurant experience that puts diners right in the kitchen —or at least close to it?
And, while you're at it, why not put the booze where the kitchen is, just like it would be in someone's house, where the host can fetch guests a cold beer from the fridge or mix a cocktail, and not have to worry about a pot boiling over?
You could call such a place, one that combined the functions of a kitchen and a bar, a Kitbar, which is just what Stone did. The one in Owings Mills is the second Kitbar; the first opened last year in Herndon, Va.
The Kitbar, though, is not like someone's home. Picture a long and wide oval bar in a long, long room. Save for the hostesses and some managers, the entire staff works inside the oval, making drinks, preparing food and taking orders. Radiating from the bar are high tables and low tables, all of which have, on the staff's side, a little notched space, or alcove, from which the servers can wait on customers without ever having to leave the safety of the oval.
There is some good and reasonably priced food. You can get in and out of Stone's Cove in about an hour, which makes it a good option for a hot summer weeknight, when no one feels like cooking or even sitting down for a long restaurant dinner. Even with quick turnover, people were waiting for spots to open up on a recent Thursday night.
The Kitbar menu features a section called "Appetapas," shareable plates between the size of an appetizer and tapas, as well as a small selection of "Edibations," basically four alcohol-infused Appetapas each served on its own porcelain spoon.
And the Kitbar is staffed, in theory anyway, by a new kind of restaurant employee called a Cheftender, who is chef, waiter, bartender and entertainer all in one.
Stone's Cove Kitbar was not as cockamamie in real life as its publicity materials make it out to be. There is, for instance, more to the menu than Appetapas and Edibations — things like entrees and salads.
And about that Cheftender thing: When we visited, the person who took our order was not our cook. If you think about it, how could he have been? But all of the staff are cross-trained, a company representative said, so your server one night might be cooking your tilapia the next day.
Fair enough, but that makes dining at Stone's Cove not a radically different experience than eating anywhere else with an open kitchen. You can watch your food being prepared, if you want, but it's not as if anyone's caramelizing or filleting anything.
The food is cooked efficiently and seasoned confidently. For $14 you can get a tequila-glazed tilapia, served with a mango salsa and coconut rice. True, it sounds like the last Lean Cuisine left in your freezer, but it was as good as tilapia gets, moist and mellow, a palette for fruity flavors. "I'm not gonna lie," a friend said. "This is really good."
We liked other things, too — sliders with juicy beef tenderloin and balsamic onions, ahi tuna served with a crispy slaw, seared shrimp served with roasted red pepper cheese grits.
Food is cutely presented, often on a compartmentalized plate or some other contrivance, like one of those little steel racks for holding a foursome of miniature cones. A hot and creamy spinach dip is served in a white bowl with four side compartments for zesty and savory toppings — a red pepper hummus, an olive tapenade.
It dawns on you that the menu consists almost entirely of items that are easy to reproduce reliably and to portion out precisely. Two thoughts cross your head: The food at Kitbar will be consistent from one visit to the next, and it will always be a little impersonal.
There were a few not-so-good dishes, like the seared flatiron steak that had no flavor. There are weak areas. The wine list is safe, the beer offerings are lame. Dessert consists of two gimmicks — s'mores flatbreads and miniature cones filled with flavored creams.
I'd recommend at least checking it out, just to see how the concept plays out in real time. We liked it, but I ended up wishing it had been more cockamamie.
Stone's Cove Kitbar
Rating: 2 stars
Where: 10997 Owings Mills Blvd.
Contact: 410-205-7258, http://www.stonescove.com
Open: Lunch and dinner daily
Prices: Appetizers $8-$16; entrees $8-14
Food: Contemporary American cuisine
Service: Outgoing but with signs of programming fatigue
Best dishes: Tequila-glazed tilapia, shrimp and grits, trio of beef sliders
Parking: Free parking in adjacent lot.
Special diets: None.
Children: The layout and concept are not designed for children.
Noise level/television: The noise level is slightly this side of comfortable. Television screens, set to cable cooking and sports shows, are set just above natural sightlines.
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very Good: 3 stars ; Good: 2 stars; Promising:1 star ]