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Free Range

Waiting Area

Good flavors peek through Regions’ curious concept and overwhelmed service

Photo: Sam Holden, License: N/A

Sam Holden


More information about Regions in weekly.citypaper.com

On the surface it doesn’t look like Regions is having a challenging night. Every table of this one-room restaurant is filled. Plates piled with food travel high on outstretched arms as servers move through the dining area. And there’s a comfortable din of glassware and conversation colliding with the exposed wooden beams in this contemporary-meets-rustic, dark-walled, barn-like room.

And yet, despite being on time for a reservation, we wait, first at the host’s stand, then at the bar, where the hostess promises someone will open our wine (Regions is BYOB with a $5 corkage fee) and give us some bread, though it’s clear right away that that someone is not her as she quickly disappears. Because Regions’ bar isn’t a bar in the normal sense (since it doesn’t serve alcohol), there is no staff dedicated to it, and we wait for five minutes, then 10, before intercepting a server pausing at the bar to ask her to open our bottle. We spend another 20 minutes at the bar with bread, but no utensils, and menus, but no offer of food. The restaurant is overbooked tonight, the hostess explains, and tables aren’t turning over at their usual rate.

To fill the time, we consider Regions’ menu, a mélange of small and large plates, many of them seafood-based, from “regions” denoted as “Maryland,” “Asian,” “Cajun,” “Italian,” “French,” “Southwest,” and “Comfort” (where is that exactly?). The purpose of this kind of setup, of course, is to offer a little bit of everything to sate diners’ ranging tastes, though on careful consideration, the menu’s collection of salads, steaks, seafood, and pasta might all be considered comfort food. According to the restaurant’s web site, the staff will solicit diners’ input in order to shape Regions’ evolving menu. For now, though, you can order a “Southwest” platter with guacamole, salsa fresca, and chili con queso followed by “Asian” salmon Kung Pao, or pair “Italian” mussels Naples dressed in macadamia pesto with a “French” chicken paillard. Whether or not these regional descriptors work is mostly immaterial, but the categorization of each dish feels gimmicky and has the effect of making the menu feel fractured rather than a contiguous whole. Still, ordering carefully, which we do 20 minutes after being seated and nearly an hour after arriving at the restaurant, can yield a meal of complementary flavors.

If you’re unsure where to begin, don’t ignore the oysters Rockefeller ($11). Granted, they’re not the usual rendition of baked oysters smothered in bacon and crumbs and served on the half shell, but they are a good rendition. Regions’ version eschews the shells and serves the oysters breaded and fried over a verdant bed of sautéed spinach. A Pernod-spiked cream sauce adds a touch of sweetness, and sautéed pine nuts and bacon provide the savory. It’s a very, very nice dish. The ever-popular coconut shrimp ($10), a special, just can’t compare in terms of interest, but this is more the fault of the dish itself than its execution.

Because Regions shares the same ownership with nearby Catonsville Gourmet, seafood would seem the best choice here, but it’s the chicken paillard ($22) that wins the honor of best large plate of the evening. It’s a generous serving: two good-sized chicken breasts, pounded thin (or as thin as their size will allow), lightly breaded, pan-fried, and garnished with tomato, spinach, and shitake mushrooms. And while it may not be the most exciting dish on the menu, it is beautifully executed, the chicken moist and the accompanying fingerling potatoes crisp on the outside and fluffy within. I’d initially argued against ordering it on the grounds of its ordinariness, but I’m glad I was overruled.

Filet mignon and crabcakes are each available on the regular menu (the former as tournedos Baltimore) but a daily special of steak and cake ($26) allows a sample of both. Each is a straightforward rendering, but on this evening, the cake beats out the steak (which was on the rare side of medium rare). A ring of mussels encircles the mound of angel hair in pasta fra diablo ($22), another special, but more spice, as well as a dollop more sauce, would render it worthy of its devilish moniker.

Two of the five desserts at Regions are from nearby Sugarbakers bakery, and though we are told by the server “dessert’s on us,” we politely pass. Between the waiting and some inadvertently sloppy service (one diner was served a portion of his dinner in his lap) the meal has felt like three hours, one diner quietly confides, even though it was only a little over two. When the bill comes, a hunk of cheesecake packed up for carry out comes with it—a nice gesture, but too little too late. Better would have been an apology, a nibble at the bar perhaps, or a visit from the manager, but best would simply have been prompt, careful service throughout the evening.

All restaurants have off nights, and we had the misfortune to visit Regions on one. Given the lingering at other tables, most folks seemed to be having a better experience than we did. I hope that is the case with you too.

Regions is open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday.

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