Almost a 10, Bagby’s second restaurant does almost everything well
Published: December 28, 2011
The opening of TEN TEN , the Bagby Group’s second restaurant in Harbor East (the other is Bagby Pizza Co.) poses the question: Does Baltimore need another bistro touting local and seasonal? A meal there a scant month after the restaurant’s opening provides the unequivocal answer: absolutely.
TEN TEN offers a dose of comfort juiced up by a dash of sophistication, from the carefully crafted space that melds classic exposed brick and hardwood floors with modern touches like white leather dining chairs to the unpretentious servers who exude a genuine enthusiasm for the food and for making diners feel welcome. (Not every server in the restaurant thanked us for coming in that evening, but it sure felt that way.) Even taking into account that December brings out folks celebrating the holidays, it doesn’t feel surprising to see the multigenerational tables and girls’ night out groups dressed up on a Saturday night. TEN TEN might be cozy, but it’s still “downtown.” Right now, the only thing that takes away from the warmth of the place is the walk from Fleet Street through the dark concrete courtyard back to the restaurant entrance, but I suspect warmer weather will bring proper landscaping, lighting, and perhaps a few outdoor tables.
Under the direction of Executive Chef Mark Davis, formerly of Woodfire in Severna Park, TEN TEN’s menu offers what you would expect in a bistro—steak frites, duck-fat fries, mussels with leeks and white wine, house-made charcuterie—but Southern and regional influences show up as well. Like any downtown Baltimore restaurant with a toe in the tourist trade, TEN TEN offers a crab cake and rockfish. There’s also shrimp and grits, and even a touch of Spain in a bacon-wrapped date appetizer right off a tapas platter and a swirl of Romesco sauce that accompanies a Scottish salmon fillet. Nothing is exotic or remotely challenging, but everything, save a local greens salad ($4 for the small portion) whose vinaigrette badly needed seasoning, is executed with finesse, balance, and a fine palate for flavor combinations.
Take the seared sea scallop appetizer ($12): Three scallops the size of checkers come crusted outside, cooked through within, and napped in cauliflower purÃ©e that both plays off the sweetness of the scallops and complements the nuttiness of the sprinkle of wild mushrooms that comes with the dish. A garnish of lightly smoked chicken gives ivory-colored root vegetable bisque ($7 and a special) texture and a dash of savory to cut through the creaminess. Tiny chunks of parsnip keep the whole dish appealingly home-style.
While many of TEN TEN’s ingredients come from now familiar purveyors such as Cherry Glen Goat Cheese, Marvesta Shrimp, and Gunpowder Bison, some of the produce, you’re told, is harvested from the restaurant’s farm near Towson. Witness the spinach used in the evening’s entrÃ©e special, a delicately cooked halibut fillet ($27) served with saffron fume and purple potatoes slow-cooked like confit and looking a lot like beets. That spinach also makes an appearance creamed and as a side for a terrific steak frites, the bargain of the evening at $22. Served with duck-fat frites, the culotte cut is as buttery as any filet mignon but more flavorful.
Our server touted the molasses-brined pork loin ($21), and while tender and with a little salty sweetness to the flavor like barbecued ribs, it felt overcooked. The accompanying sides, though, would make me want to try it again. It’s rare to find pickled red cabbage as crisp and tart as this, and the “Parisian” gnocchi were little clouds of heaven. Yes, I gush.
Chestnut chicken-bacon roulade ($21) engenders both skepticism and intrigue. Will it taste like wedding-reception fare? Will the chestnuts be present as advertised? The answers are no and yes, respectively. The filling around which the chicken breast is wrapped is your favorite cook’s stuffing made richer with chestnuts and spinach. Even if you’re tired of holiday turkey and sides, this is worth trying.
TEN TEN’s kitchen has an inventive way with desserts, and some—like the brioche beignets ($8), hot fried dough nuggets stuffed with hazelnut cream—satisfy better than others. The Guinness stout marshmallow ($8) sounds more interesting than it actually is. The conceit is cool—recreated elements of the famed pint in the form of stout-infused marshmallow covered with crushed pretzels and accompanied by malt ice cream and chocolate ganache—but the execution doesn’t quite work. With the exception of the ice cream, none of the components has much punch, and the marshmallow is gummy rather than light.
Still, the restaurant has a well-crafted beer and wine list (every bottle is also available by the glass), and some fun cocktails (next time, I’m trying the High Line [$11], a combination of gin, Benedictine, honey, lemon, Pernod, and rosemary). It also has something on the menu that will please most palates, the kind of place that you can take your in-laws visiting from out of town or an office party for lunch or just good friends for a night on the town. TEN TEN is a win-win.
TEN TEN is open monday-friday for lunch and dinner, saturday for dinner, and sunday for brunch and dinner. stop shouting: firstname.lastname@example.org.
> Email Mary K. Zajac