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May 20, 2008

Top Ten Bistros

JacksB.jpgThree years ago I wrote a story about bistros for the food section, pointing out that our fine French restaurants were dying out, while French bistros seemed to be proliferating.

The concept has gotten even trendier, if possible, since then. These days the word seems to be used for any new restaurant that wants to imply it's casual, fun and serves alcohol.

I didn't think people felt as strongly about bistros as they do about, say, diners or chains until I got a message from someone on my home phone urging me to include Liberatore's Bistro on my list. THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING. First of all, calling me at home with a recommendation for a Top Ten restaurant is an automatic disqualification of said restaurant. Liberatore's wouldn't have been on my list anyway. Not because it's not good, but because I haven't eaten there. 

Two others that are new and I haven't eaten at: Ciao Pizza Bistro Italiano at Quarry Lake and Carpaccio Italian Bistro in Annapolis. Feel free to put in your two cents if you know anything about either.

Then there are those restaurants that seem bistro-ish to me even if they don't label themselves as such. I included one in my list.

Here they are: ... 

* Aida Bistro & Wine Bar in Columbia. Proof that you can have a bistro in a suburban shopping center. The food is Italian and homey, with an imaginative flair.

* Artful Gourmet Bistro in Owings Mills (9433 Common Brook Road # 103, 410-356-2606). Unpretentious, good food. Italian, American and Spanish, with a little French thrown in for good measure.

* b Bistro in Bolton Hill. One of my favorites, but on the upscale end of the bistro scale. Good food and a very pleasant outdoor eating space on a not-too-busy street.

* Bicycle Bistro in Federal Hill. It's stretching the definition of bistro to include the Bicycle here, but the food is so good it's hard to leave it out. And the restaurant has labeled itself as a bistro.

* Jack's Bistro in Canton. Wildly imaginative bistro fare, which includes cassoulet but also a Red Curry Rubbed Hanger Steak Noodle Bowl.

* Luca's Cafe in Locust Point. The only one on my list without "bistro" in the name, but I've been there recently enough to feel confident in my recommendation. It's definitely a bistro in spirit if not in name.

* Meli Patisserie & Bistro in Fells Point. This is almost more a restaurant and lounge than a bistro, but prices are in the right range, and you can get casual food and drink there.

* Petit Louis Bistro in Roland Park. As close as you'll come to an authentic French bistro experience in Baltimore.

* Regi's American Bistro in Federal Hill. Its slogan is as good a definition of an American bistro as any: "You will feel as comfortable ordering a Idaho rainbow trout in tart lemon butter."

* Timothy Dean Bistro in Fells Point. This one was tough, because I had an excellent meal there, but not very recently. I've been hearing mixed things, including that it might be close to closing. Still, Dean is a fine chef, so if I'm going only on what I know personally, I would include it in any list of top bistros.


(Colby Ware/Special to the Sun)



Posted by Elizabeth Large at 4:07 AM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Top Ten Tuesdays


In my experience Timothy Dean's is pricier than b, for what it's worth, and if price is one of the definitional criteria.

You know, one of my criteria for a "bistro" is that the meals are a bit over-priced for whay you get (which is the exact the opposite of a diner, where the food is pretty inexpensive for what you get).

Not to say the over-priced meal is necessarly a "bad" thing b/c somethimes it's worth the extra $$$ to be in a plesant atmosphere where the waitress doesn't ask "how you want dem aigs (eggs), hon?"

A very good point. EL

If I'm thinking of the right place(s) I don't know that I'd consider Liberatore's a bistro anyway. For one, it's a chain, albeit a local one. Secondly, I've been to 3 of them and they all had that sort of stodgy restaurant feel to me. The menu is really pretty standard Italian fare, I just see nothing "bistro" about the ambience or food. And last, real bad idea to call EL at home unless you are a personal friend or family member IMHO.
On an another note, I would love to hear more about the new Quarry Lake Ciao Pizza - haven't had the time to check it out yet. EL - will you be checking it out anytime soon?

I'll never tell. :-) EL

Called you at home? Are they crazy? Wonder why they did not just post on the blog? Just wondering. That is like a bill collector calling you at home. Just too irritating. I think that getting them straight would be a job we could assign to Sam and his cohorts. rofl

EL, Always enjoy Regi's and I'm told "b" is quite good. But, I can't agree on Luca's. I might give it another try, but our experience was average to poor food quality, high prices, loud music and louder patrons (yelling over the music).

That's too bad. We had a nice meal there. And I don't remember that it was noisy upstairs at all. EL

We ate at Ciao in Quarry Lake (where did that place come from???) and the food was good, but the service left a lot to be desired. No silverware until after the food was served. Coffee with cream & sugar, but no spoon. Very small things, but I think that the Quarry Lake crowd would expect decent service.

Wow, I don't even have your home phone number. I wonder if OMG or Voodo Porc has it?

In the summer, nothing beats dining alfresco. However, I am a vegetarian (lacto-ova, but try to go vegan whenever the opportunity presents itself). Which of the above establishments would you recommend for the vegetarians among us who enjoy outdoor dining?

I'm guessing here, but I think b and Regi's are your best bet. (Although that car did go up on the curb at Regi's.) Even if those two don't have vegetarian offerings on their menus, and I think they both do, they are the kind of places that would fix them for you. EL

Can't wait to try these places!

Eugh, my experience with Meli was HORRIBLE. I was expecting to love it, because of my love for Mezze, but it was a heinous experience. I got the lamb chops with butternut squash risotto, and it was SO bland. No flavoring at all. And I couldn't get the attention of our server to get salt to put on it to give it some semblance of flavor until after my friend had finished her meal and the risotto was a cold, congealed mess. Their entrees are not cheap, and it sucked to know I could have walked half a block to Mezze and gotten two of the Baby Lamb Chop tapas for the same price as my entree, with 80 times the flavor. Ptoo. Never again.

Dedicated city restaurant goers, my husband and I had yet another perfect meal at Christopher Daniel - a totally suburban restaurant with rather unexciting (mauve) but soothing decor. Six people had 6 different entrees - all delicious, fresh, and pretty. Desserts were equally successful. The delicious food, attentive service, free and convenient parking, and relaxed atmosphere (food as good as Linwoods but slightly less expensive and much less fussy) mitigates the strip mall location and put it at the top of our list of reliably good eating places.

Re: Vegatarian - any good restaurant should be able to accommodate your preference/allergy I would think. I am allergic to milk and received a lot of attention about it at Petit Louis. Server even went as far as to offer olive oil with the bread served - very nice touch. Even told me what ingredients were in the bread to ease my concerns. Completely addicted to their frisee salad. Sans bleu cheese - excellent.

OMG...I had a horrible experience at Regi's. I ordered a 3-cheese burger, med well. I discovered after taking a bite that it was med rare. The nice waiter removed the burger, but when he returned, it was the same burger. They placed the burger back on the grill (bite taken out and all!). It was pretty obvious as the cheese had melted to almost invisible. I considered pursuing a career in food & health inspection at that point.

I have to disagree with Rosie, I've been to Christopher Daniel and it was awful!! First, my boyfriend had the duck and the vein was left in-which is an elementary culinary mistake in my eyes....anyway, if you don't know it gives the meat a gamey taste in addition to being quite gross to look at. My pasta was over-cooked, the grilled shrimp over-cooked and the calamari was so bad it was like chewing on blocks of rubber. This was in the middle of March so maybe they have cleaned up their act but in all honesty I wouldn't waste another dime.

My husband and I ate at Petit Louis on Saturday ---- first timers. Overall, this was such a charming experience. A few of you suggested some dishes, which was VERY much appreciated. Not only was the food excellent, but the service impressive as well. We split the frisee au lardons and pate to begin. I had the coquilles st. jacques as an entree and nearly wept....delicious! Husband had the Saturday special braised shortribs and loved them as well (he also happily finished off the decadent flan that came with my scallops). We will definitely be back and next time have to try the recommended duck and the sweetbreads. One last thing that really hooked us was the cost - it is getting more and more difficult to find such quality for under $25 per entree.

Greedy Girl needs to give Meli another try. It was a new restaurant and is amazing now!

You mean SG Karen.

It might be officially a Trattoria, but Sammy's on Noth Charles Street in MT Vernon definitely has an Italian bistrot flare, and I've always really enjoyed it.

Carolyn- you should give Christopher Daniel another try. Their salads are excellent and I think they have the best burger around. I have also had a few seafood dishes and great steaks. It might be worth stopping in again.

Had a late night (9pm on a Thursday) pizza at Ciao. They have great HD flat screens in the bar area, I got to catch the last few innings of the O's game from my table by the window. It's cramped, so stay away during peak times! But the food was good, and a great wine list but limited on what is available by bottle vs glass (never understood that, if you have it make it available however I want to drink it!) A great addition to that area, since there isn't much out there, only so many times you can hit Mt. Washington Tavern, so I will be back.

Bill- I had the same service problem at Ciao. Wine came after my food was served, no silverware either. I thought it was because it was later in the evening. Good to know someone else had the same trouble. Great service covers a multitude of sins...bad service highlights them.

I ate at Timothy Dean with my fiance on Mother's Day and the food was excellent. The fish was perfectly cooked, and the spinach flavorful and not soggy. Both my fiance and I cleaned our plates, yet didn't feel stuffed. (I hate large portions as I inevitably eat it all ...)

Well, I am heartened to hear positive things about Christopher Daniel since it appears that Taste will be reopened by someone connected with CD. I hope they listen to all the people who complained that Taste was over-priced and the food came with too much attitude.

The sign in front of the Pizza Hut on 108 in Clarksville actually says "Pizza Hut Italian Bistro." Who knew??? My husband and I were laughing out loud when we saw it.

Another place that I wouldn't neccessarily place on the top 10 list but an almost bistro is the Flying Avacado in Owings Mills. I haven't been in a while, the last 2 times I tried they were so packed that the line was out the door. I think that they close when the weather gets warm (which may be soon, after all, it is MAY!). It's in what may be the ugliest strip mall in all of Owings Mills, there's no table service, and (I guess) no air conditioning; but still there's some charm there. The food is inventive, flavorful and organic to boot. With a little tweaking it could definitely enter Bistro territory. (which again, it may have - haven't been in a long time!)

The sign in front of the Pizza Hut on 108 in Clarksville actually says "Pizza Hut Italian Bistro." Who knew??? My husband and I were laughing out loud when we saw it.

Have you seen the commercial for Pizza Hut's pasta? Where diners are tricked by the pasta they have been served in what appears to be a "nice" restaurant is actually from Pizza Hut? You have got to be kidding me! Has anyone tried it?

Hold onto yuor wigs and keys because PIzza Hut is about to ruin the word bisto forever:

Sooner or later there will be a gizillion Pizza Hut Bistros everywhere. The horror, Mista Kurtz, the horror!

Any suggestions for a replacement word?

McDonald's is still busy with its worldwide effort to destroy the word café:

The McCafé concept is a café-style accompaniment to McDonald's restaurants. McCafé is a concept of McDonald's Australia, starting with Melbourne in 1993. Today, most McDonald's in Australia have McCafés located within the existing McDonald's restaurant. In Tasmania there are McCafés in every store.

As Tasmania goes, so goes the world!

Dahlink - I hadn't heard that about Taste (but I have - shamefully - been offline a lot lately). Do you have any more details - like timing or menu?

I'm just glad that space won't be sitting empty for too long.

McCafé and a Pizza Hut Bistro. They need a good Taoist beat down. What is next? Burger King Brasserie? Panera Patisserie? Oscar Meyer Boulangerie?

Pizza Hut pasta: I tried the chicken Alfredo (please don't yell at me it was a long day.) Strong on the garlic. Other wise fairly tasteless. Chicken was okay. The Alfredo sauce totally without redeeming virtue. No real taste of cream or cheese. Don't bother. Wegman's Alfredo sauce in the dairy case is much better.

Oh first they get unknowing diners on Folgers Crystals and now it is Pizza Hut pasta. When will the lies end?

RtSO ........... J'accuse! Oh the humanity!

Nice one LIssa, but shouldn't it be bologneria?

kitpollard, all I know about the place that was Taste is what I heard in a neighborhood meeting. There is supposed to be a hearing for a liquor license sometime in June, so stay tuned!

Please check out my Table Talk column today for details. EL

artful gourmet is neither artful nor gourmet. Our food was processed canned items. I was extremely displeased with the very slow service, and the low quality food at such expensive prices; for two people to eat dinner there with water, it was $42 including a 20% tip. NOT good.

artful gourmet is neither artful nor gourmet. Our food was processed canned items. I was extremely displeased with the very slow service, and the low quality food at such expensive prices; for two people to eat dinner there with water, it was $42 including a 20% tip. NOT good.

artful gourmet is neither artful nor gourmet. Our food was processed canned items. I was extremely displeased with the very slow service, and the low quality food at such expensive prices; for two people to eat dinner there with water, it was $42 including a 20% tip. NOT good.

artful gourmet is neither artful nor gourmet. Our food was processed canned items. I was extremely displeased with the very slow service, and the low quality food at such expensive prices; for two people to eat dinner there with water, it was $42 including a 20% tip. NOT good.

sorry about the multiple posts. not on purpose! the captcha kept claiming I made a mistake.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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