Sunday, January 25, 2009

Baltimore Restaurant Week: Red Maple

I was not sure if I'd be able to do Restaurant Week this year, time and money wise, but I did manage to get around to it. So I asked my friend Eric if he and his better half would like to go to Red Maple. I wanted to try it out since the chef - Jill Snyder - is now locally famous. Fortunately for us (and her?) there was no ostrich egg on the menu. What was on the menu, however, was a mixed bag.

We got there for our 8:00 reservation, and got quickly seated - the only thing that happened quickly that night. I figured there were just a lot of orders. Eric, not impressed with that excuse, brought up a good point: they only have to worry about a few dishes. You see, Red Maple cut down its typical menu for Restaurant Week, only offering five selections for its first (appetizer) of three courses, five more for its entrée course, and four or five more for its dessert course. That's about 15 different things that the kitchen has to worry about putting on the tables of hungry patrons.

Red Maple is certainly not lacking in stylishness. It caters to a youngish, hip sort of crowd. As we brought up later in the evening, Red Maple is less of a restaurant than a lounge that serves food. It has not only a nice wine list, but a diverse selection of cocktails, all of which were a bit more than I wanted to pay (I just got a Sierra Nevada for $4, while Eric and Alan got a nice bottle of white wine).

The menu looked quite promising. For each of three courses, you could choose one of a variety of small plates, each of which was just large enough to share a little of everything amongst the three of us.

For our first course, we each ordered different appetizers: I got a tom kha kai sort of soup with lemongrass, coconut milk and chicken that was the best of anything on the table. The other guys ordered some okay egg rolls and some dumplings that were a bit on the bland side.

Our second course was the main one, with slightly more substantial portions than I would have expected on a small plate. That's not a complaint, mind you. This time, Alan's scallops were the tastiest thing amongst the three of us. I did like my seared and crusted tuna with wasabi pea mash, but the scallops were better. Eric, on the other hand, was thoroughly dissatisfied with his jerk chicken satay, which was very dry (to put it mildly).

For the final course, we had a selection of desserts. Both Alan and I ordered the double chocolate creme brulee. I loved this stuff, which came with some dots of whipped cream and a few blueberries on top. But it really didn't seem like creme brulee. It was more like a rich chocolate mousse with a crispy creme brulee top, but I liked it. Eric's apple tart was the best thing he had that evening, and really was the only thing he liked. Of course, the worst thing about the evening was the wait. From the time we were seated to the time we got our first course, almost a full hour had passed. As I alluded to before, the waitress said there were two big parties that came in and ordered just before us. Still, with such a limited selection of choices on the menu, one wonders if it should have taken that long, and just how long it would've taken for the food to come out had it been a regular night with the full menu!

Eric's not having much luck with my choices of restaurant.

As for my own assessment: I liked what I had. Perhaps it wasn't really worth $30, but I would eat it again. As for Red Maple: I probably won't be going back. The food is okay, and the desserts were lovely, but it really doesn't have that restaurant vibe. But at least there were no exotic eggs on the menu!

UPDATE (1/27/09) - Minx just let me know that Jill is no longer with Red Maple. She's "workin' the line" at Sotto Sopra. Is that a demotion? Regardless, our food at Red Maple the other night clearly can not be blamed on Chef Jill!


Eric said...

I'd just like to add to this apt review that it was more than an hour from seating until the entrees arrived. When they did arrive, at least mine was nearly cold. Doesn't the kitchen have a way to keep plates warm? I did like my salad and the spring roll was tasty. The chicken satay was a disaster though. Cold, dried out small pieces of chicken on a stick. The stick itself probably had more flavor. If there was some sort of sauce..ala "satay" I couldn't find it, although it may have been congealed and stuck on the cold plate. The rice was jasmine I believe but just served plain (and less then room temperature) with some overcooked Asian stir-fry-type vegetables on the side, also served too cold. The wine list was pretty good and reasonably priced as John mentioned..although the ditzy waitress didn't know how to open the bottle. She had to "get some help" from the bar. The saving grace was the excellent company I had during a most mediocre dining experience. At least at first, before the music became progressively too loud to hold a conversation.

John said...

I think I was a wee bit kinder :D Thanks for the compliment about the company, Eric

theminx said...

You know that Jill Snyder left Red Maple right after her departure on Top Chef, right? She's working on the line at Sotto Sopra now.

John said...

I didn't know that. I just changed that in the post, to look less foolish than I already do :)

theminx said...

Another update - Jill Snyder is now at Woodberry Kitchen!

John said...

Hmmm, at this rate she'll be working at just about every restaurant in Baltimore by the end of the year...

diningdish said...

Jill was helping out friend, Bill Crouse at Sotto Sopra learning more about Italian cuisine. She previously worked with Spike Gjerde and went back to work with him at Woodberry.

That is the poop and scoop as I say.