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November 18, 2009

Changes at Talara in Harbor East



Talara in Harbor East has made various changes that all sound like improvements to me. But I'm not its core audience, so I'd be interested in hearing from others about them.

I liked the Nuevo Latino ceviche and tapas bar when I reviewed it, but it's a place I would think of more for drinks and nibbles than dinner.

But management would like to change that. ...


I mentioned somewhere, either here or in my Table Talk column, that the restaurant had added some "mid plates," i.e., entrees, to the menu. Good move if you want to be known as a dinner place.

Now managing partner Nicholas Rizzo tells me Talara has more recently added tablecloths, lowered the lights and lowered the music level.

"These changes are what the majority of guests have been asking for," Rizzo said, "so we have happily obliged."

Tapas and ceviche are still a big part of the menu, of course.

I'm trying to think of another restaurant around here that's changed that way, without changing altogether, and I can't think of one.

Talara is now open for lunch seven days a week, and has more promotions than you can shake a stick at. Check out the Web site.

(Kenneth K. Lam/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 6:56 AM | | Comments (16)


Is it me, or does that bartender look Romulan?

Lissa- now that you mention it, yes, he does.

Overall, I like this idea. I'm never sure how many apps I'll be hungry for. And I'm old enough now that loud music just annoys me.

Mehre efveh! Romulans in Harbor East!

That might explain why he's pouring a tasty Romulan Ale...

Zevonista, Romulan Ale is bright light blue.

sean, I've already called my brother and sister Klingons. We'll take care of the Romulans.

This place was a blast of fresh air until opinionated people made management and ownership change their vision. I'm all up for listening to the customer and appeasing your audience, but how about holding true to your business model? I'm a latin professional, who living in Baltimore, has very few options for upscale latin venues. This place allowed me to enjoy a South Beach/Caribbean atmosphere without having to fear for my life at other places. The latin music has now given way to tecnho after 10pm, and the crowd has changed from people wanting to experience something fresh and new, to those complaining about portions and lighting. Tread lightly, Talara, because this is Baltimore, the land of "Here today, gone today". I've seen this city lose places like Babalu, and have seen the fall of Havana Club. Both of these places lost their magic because they lost sight of one thing... their core customers. Fads come and go, so don't change because the new "in crowd" suggests you play hip-hop over salsa, or because guys with baseball caps and sports jackets tell you to allow jeans for an increase in business. You lost the core customer, the loyal clientel who enjoyed places that separated themselves from the fly-by-night clubs and bars. If you want tablecloths, go to little Italy. You want dimmer lights, go to Liberatores for candel light dinners. You want techno, go to Mosaic. You want tapas, latin music, caribbean-art deco decor, friendly bartenders, and a place that Baltimore needed for years... come to Talara.

I have to tell you that the PR people at Talara irritated a lot of the local food bloggers by asking them to write two posts about the restaurant. The first offering a $25 gift card to their readers and the second announcing the winner. Nothing to be written about the restaurant, no invitation to come have a taste on them, just give away a gift card, link to the restaurant and promote it.

Talara's intention seemed to be to increase their Google presence rather than to promote the new concept at their restaurant.

Yes, I got one of those, too. Pretty outrageous, and odd. It didn't seem to be from the restaurant directly. And it started by saying how much the person had learned on my blog about food and wine pairings. (I don't do food and wine pairings.) It was very strange. EL

I'm not its core audience

it's a place I would think of more for drinks and nibbles than dinner.

I wonder how long it will take until someone reads these scathing comments and accuses you of bashing, slamming or attacking Talara?

Unfortunately, I've gotten used to it. :-) EL

I visited during the change when the menu literally had stuff crossed out all over it and other things written in. The night did not go well. I paid almost $20 for a beef "mid plate" that was tiny and I left quite hungry. I also asked for a tall sized cocktail, which ended up costing me $14. So I was not thrilled when another group of friends wanted to go back a week or so ago. My meal was much better this time. I had one of the specials, a cinnamon pork mid plate. It was a normal portion (not huge but not tiny) and more reasonably priced - closer to $15. Others enjoyed their meals too.

I agree with G2G

Talara was our new favorite place to go and definitely something new and unique. Now, I'm not sure what it will be

I agree with G2G and Dave we have been hitting almost once a week. Loved it was unique.

Isn't that Ruth Buzzi's son in the photo?

Thank you all for your support and helping us spread the word. Your responses are interesting as we are always curious to what people are thinking. But I did want to put our loyal base at ease. We are by no means overhauling the concept. We have simply made a few minor tweaks that, to be honest, a lot of people will not even notice. Nuevo Latino Tapas and Ceviche is still a staple of what we do and continues to make up over 2/3's of our menu. We simply added a third layer for the more traditional diner. All of our Mid Plates stay true to our Nuevo Latino concept and the feedback thus far has been great. As for the music, we have been experimenting on Fri and Sat nights with dance music from 11pm-Close with hopes to make the space more appealing for a late night bar crowd. Again, I just wanted to make sure that everyone was getting the correct information. We have now been open for 6 months and feel that some of the feedback has been so overwhelming that we could not ignore it. So we are doing our best to give people what they want while still holding true to our original concept, which we still believe in. Anyway, please stop by soon, I'm sure the changes we have made are much more subtle than most people think. I would love to get more feedback so please let me know if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you all again for helping us "get the word out".

Hi Nick...

I'd love for you to address the e-mails that went to the Baltimore Food Blogging community, asking them to link to Talara and offer readers a gift certificate, and then link again naming the winner.

It seemed more to be a ploy to increase the restaurant's google rank than to say anything good about the restaurant, or even review it.

If you have a PR company whose first reach is annoying the local food bloggers, you're doing it wrong.

I realize I've been quite critical of Talara in my own reviews. Not because of concept, but more on execution. So, it's nice to see the management accomodating the market.

Pros: I think I've mentioned that the place has confused noise (auditory, visual, so on) for energy. It's nice to see this being addressed.

Cons: I've found it disappointing in the past to see tapas and small plate-oriented places (Pazo, Cinghiale) take on larger portions to accomodate diners who aren't familiar with, or expecting the format. While I understand why, I feel it misses the point.

In any case, here's looking forward to trying the place out again.

You have beat me to the punch with regards to the recent emails that have been sent out to local food bloggers. I do have to apologize to anyone that was offended by the email. Their approach has been much to overzealous for my liking. I assure you all that we are working closely with them to make sure they are more tactful in the future. You are correct that we are attempting to increase our web presence but you are also correct that they have went about it all wrong. Again, I sincerely apologize to anyone that received the email.

As for the increase in menu offerings and other tweaks, trust me, that we would have like nothing more than to continue our strictly tapas bar menu. Our twin sister restaurant, Seviche, in Pittsburgh, has been able to maintain their original tapas menu and concept (loud music, etc.) successfully for 3 years. I can not speak for Pazo or Cingahle but I do agree with you that it does, in a way, defeat the purpose to offer regular entrees. However for us it was simply a numbers game; the amount of guests that were satisfied with the tapas offerings was far lesser than the amount of guests that voiced their displeasure with the portions and concept. But as I said before, I maintain that our changes are minimal and we are confident we now have the right balance to make the most amount of people happy as possible. We understand that we probably will not be able to make everyone happy but we are committed to trying. i do not anticipate any more changes to the concept in the near future as these were adjustments that we felt we had to make to remain competitive in the Baltimore/Harbor East market.

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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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