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Eats and Drinks

Room with More than a View

The renovated 13th Floor at the Belvedere upgrades in cuisine, atmosphere

Photo: Rarah, License: N/A

Rarah


The 13th Floor of the Belvedere (1 E. Chase St., [410] 327-0880, 13floorbelvedere.com) always seemed a bit discordant. A trip through the elegant lobby of the swank, remodeled condominium building to go dancing in a sweaty crowd to a local reggae or R&B cover band, swilling cheap beer at the big bar in the middle of the room—even as some of the most gorgeous vistas of downtown spread out on each side—felt something akin to partying in the rich kid’s penthouse while his parents were in St. Barts.

The aerie with grand slanted windows, reminiscent of a Paris atelier or the Starship Enterprise, belied a vibe more befitting of a Fells Point pub, and the food was pretty much nonexistent. (I recall escaping to the downstairs Owl Bar on occasion for a pizza.)

The new management, which took over the 13th Floor in 2009, has set about to change all that. They shut the place down in April of last year, and reopened in the fall with a stated goal of introducing consistency, smoothing out the rough edges.

And indeed, the new 13th Floor practically defines smooth, in a Diana Krall-Barry White-supper club sort of way. The oversized bar has been removed, making way for a cocktail lounge with comfy settees and chairs upholstered in a leafy fuschia cut velvet. Faux-reptile-skin banquettes and high-gloss white tables line the floor-to-ceiling windows along the sides. There’s a bar area near the entrance, across the room from a small stage that hosts a nightly lineup of bona fide crooners.

And there’s also a bona fide menu by chef Rocco Pisera, offering a mix of small plates and entrees that add up to a meal worthy of a special occasion or an every-day-is-Valentine’s-Day kind of celebration. (Sadly, the actual Valentine’s Day $55 prix fixe menu has been sold out for some time now).

You’ll probably want to start with a cocktail—the “Fitzgerald,” a manhattan made with Woodford Reserve bourbon and cherry liqueur, named for one of the former hotel’s luminous guests. Other offerings include the “Lucky You,” with mandarin-infused vodka and Grand Marnier, topped with St. Germain elderberry foam and garnished with a slice of dragon fruit, a thick-skinned curiosity that resembles an oversized kiwi with a waxy red rind.

The menu isn’t extensive, but like many restaurants these days, it offers the option of grazing through a series of shared small plates—a good choice when seated at one of the cocktail tables in the lounge area—or digging into a three-course meal (in which case, you’ll be happy to lean back in the comfort of a banquette). Small plates include fried crusted oysters ($11), four to a plate, with a smear of pepper-tinged strawberry jam on the side for dipping. The oversized bivalves were slightly overcooked and absent of any slither.

The confit duck leg ($16) was seasoned with sage and served with duck-fat fries and a nice plum jam to cut the salty goodness.

We also ordered the tuna tacos ($12), nearly raw seared ahi with queso fresco and cilantro, delicious but for the prosaic soft flour-tortilla wrapper—which could easily be replaced with the authentic corn variety, readily available locally.

The entree list, though not extensive, seems to have something for any mood. The risotto had chunks of meaty lobster—including whole claws—and several large shrimp embedded in earthy black truffle-infused rice ($26), while the braised short ribs ($25) come on a heap of mashed potatoes with forest mushrooms and a port wine reduction. There’s also a pot roast and chicken Milanese with garlic butter.

Our very attentive server was an aspiring sommelier and made wine suggestions that worked nicely—both with our meal and for lingering through dessert. If cheesecake is your thing, do try the Irish-coffee version ($8), served here in a martini glass with mounds of whipped cream. The flourless chocolate cake ($8) is likewise a decadent treat, with salty cashews and raspberries and a small dish of whipped raspberry creme fraiche on the side.

By all means, drink your dessert—a straight-up bourbon or single malt Scotch from the “nightcap” menu, or a sweet cocktail made with champagne or green tea. It’s worth lingering for the music and the views.

The rebranding effort at the Belvedere puts a new emphasis on food, and though the menu may be uneven, you can stick with the generously portioned small plates without breaking the bank. This new cosmopolitan persona retains some of the old working-class cred by keeping prices in check and the romance meter high—in other words, there’s no charge for the views.

And while there’s no more stomping to Rockabilly or keening to reggae on the 13th Floor (unless of course, you’ve reserved the place for your wedding or another special event), music is still a draw. Each evening, pianist and singer Tommy Joy plays lounge-style music during the dinner hour (7-9 P.M.), followed by an easy-listening ensemble playing mostly jazz and big-band standards with a vocalist. We’re told that occasionally the mood strikes and a couple will get up and move to the music. It’s not the same as days of old, but we’re grown up now, and the 13th Floor has risen to the occasion.

The 13th Floor is open Wednesday and Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

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