Baltimore Restaurant Week is a funny thing. Some people use it to try new places, some do lunch for a change, some to afford a fancier place, some just to get back to an old favorite. I usually go to at least one dinner during Restaurant Week — and I tend to go a little fancier than usual. And lately, I’ve been on a mission — in general — to try to get to as many old school Baltimore places. So, when the folks at Downtown Partnership asked me to do a Restaurant Week preview, I had an idea. How about I focus on steak places? That way, I could include the wonderfully old school Prime Rib and two other steak-focused places – The Capital Grille and newcomer, Bar Vasquez. And then, I realized I’d be eating at all three in the span of six days. Holy moly.
First, The Prime Rib is an absolute classic. It never changes. Never. And, I mean that in the best way. You walk in, they greet you so warmly and genuinely…then, you see coat check, the bar, the piano. It’s the same as the last time you went. I feel like The Prime Rib is one place where I want to nothing to change – and personally, I love and embrace change! For Restaurant Week, it’s pretty much the same tight menu. I don’t want too many choices, so I like that. I love a decisive chef, gimme your best, tell me what you are excited to serve. If a menu is too big, I glaze over.
My guest and I each got a Caesar salad. Normally, I’d try to mix it up with my dining companion (to try out multiple dishes) but I love a good Caesar, so that’s where we started. Next, she got Filet Mignon and I went for the Prime Rib, with a $5 up charge. I seriously considered other options, then realized I just wanted what I wanted. Then for dessert, we got crème brûlée and key lime pie. Solid meal, all around. Our server was excellent and since this is Baltimore, I ran into an old high school friend having a business dinner there. On the way out, my friend added a tip to the piano player’s oversized snifter, collected our car from the valet and headed back uptown. My friend and I vowed to go back soon just for martinis at the bar.
Next up, The Capital Grille. Again, a favorite but I’d never been there for Restaurant Week. Disclaimer: Capital Grille Baltimore’s Executive Chef Matt Jaffe is a good friend. We first met working on the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s event, Passion for Wine & Food. Capital Grille has been involved for a few years now and Matt and I just clicked – what a great guy. And, while I’m not a huge fan of large chains, The Capital Grille is simply a class act and I will happily go there over and over. Did you know they do complimentary passed hors d’oeuvres every Wednesday and Friday during happy hour in the bar? Well, if you didn’t…you do now. Get a Stoli Doli (or like me, a martini) and enjoy.
We each started with a salad. I went for the wedge, I am a total wedge fan. This one was fantastic, with blue cheese dressing, lots of smoked bacon, in-season tomatoes, perfectly crispy lettuce. My guest had the Caesar and it was also spot on. Again, I love a well executed Caesar salad. Sure, it’s simple…but each part of it has to be done right. We ordered a side of lobster mac ‘n cheese and although some of my chef friends will say STRONGLY that cheese and seafood should never mix, I’m into this, especially at Capital Grille. Next up for my friend, herb roasted chicken with the most amazing jus and perfectly cooked roasted potatoes. I got the bone-in dry aged NY strip and honestly, it was quite possibly the best steak I’ve had in years. Simply prepared and presented with fresh arugula. It was one of those dishes where you take a bite and just think, I’m so lucky to be eating this right now. Thank you, chef.
Then, a few nights later (yes, I am tired but definitely not complaining) it was Bar Vasquez. I’ve said it before and I’m gonna keep saying it, this is one of the most gorgeous rooms in Baltimore. The bar and lounge areas, the mezzanine upstairs, the live music playing in the background, it all feels like a nice night out. We sat upstairs and our server was very attentive and warm, yet professional and polished. They decided to go with a tasting menu for this visit and my guest and I each had a salad, pasta and then, two entrees. His was this insanely crispy, yet juicy chicken a la plancha. No photo because the lights were (pleasantly) dim and we honestly just ate it too fast! (Eat your food while it’s hot, right?) I almost never order chicken out, but wow…that chicken was amazing. Then for dessert, a lovely banana pudding creation, which I think might not be on the Restaurant Week menu – but, it was fantastic. Knowing Foreman Wolf, the Restaurant Week desserts – Arroz Con Leche and a Roasted Pineapple Tart – will be fantastic. They do everything right.
All three of these restaurants offer valet parking, which is always nice to have in your back pocket. All three also feel like you’re out and you’re a grown up (I don’t always feel like one.) The Prime Rib is definitely a Baltimore classic and you should get there if you’ve never been. Capital Grille is consistently very good and you can sit at the bar if you decide you want to go a little casual. And, Bar Vasquez? It’s a a great addition to the city and I have enjoyed my first few visits there. Check out their Restaurant Week menus online and hurry…they’re gonna book up! Baltimore Restaurant Week goes through August 4, 2017.