You should check out Bistro Blanc on Rte 32 in Glenelg. You can get spectacular food. Imaginative food. A meal that Elizabeth Large
thinks is worth a drive from Baltimore, so it's a no-brainer if you're lucky enough to live around here. But you need to be a tough customer.
Bistro Blanc is trendy in the best possible way. The seasonal trend means changing, imaginative dishes. Small plates let you experiment and share a table's worth of fun. These are the trends that spawned Woodberry Kitchen and Iron Bridge Wine Co, and they created a magical meal on my first visit to Bistro Blanc. We thrilled through a series of bright, full flavors. A watermelon carpaccio. An avocado soup. A cheese tart with plums. Each course was inventive, then exceeded by the next. We ended with an herbed panna cotta that was so perfect that I strained to remember the details of the dishes that came before. I left convinced that it was the best restaurant in Howard County.
That is why our Labor Day disaster was such a surprise. We went back so that I could profile Bistro Blanc energized by great food, and we ended up with bad food and bad service. Really bad service. I'm not going into detail. I have set aside my overly-detailed, overtly-angry first draft and offer instead some basic advice:
- If you get anything bad at Bistro Blanc, send it back immediately. Don't smile politely when they say your fig tart has no figs because they're out of season. Ask for a different dish. Bistro Blanc wants to serve magical food. If they fall short, tell someone -- politely. They want you happy.
- Stay on top of your waiter. Don't expect perfection. Both times, waiters we liked were a bit goofy and mis-described the menu or food. Fine with us. But our Labor Day disaster occurred because our main waitress took our order and never returned even though we were sitting 15 feet from the manager. By the time I made my stand, we had been abandoned to bad food and dirty dishes, and our evening was a mess.
Nothing at Bistro Blanc should be a mess. When the kitchen is on, the dishes are beautiful. Unique, sculptural plates with unique, sculptural food. The chef Marc Dixon started at Iron Bridge, and Bistro Blanc
shares the same concept of wine store / wine bar / restaurant. I love Iron Bridge for the cozy atmosphere and the sometimes funny food -- the "burger, fries and a milkshake" that Mrs. HowChow and I still talk about. Bistro Blanc is more precise than funny. Imagine a fruit and cheese tart covered with greens on plate dotted with sauces. That could be a vegetarian thicket of bitter lettuces, but it came together beautifully. Great flavor. The illusion that I controlled the dish by dipping in sauces, but the truth was that the chef had thought out each piece and assembled something that I would never imagine at home. (And it would have been worth ordering if it had figs.)
Bistro Blanc's owner heard about my disaster because I mentioned it to BillZ of Live in Howard County. The owner emailed to apologize. It turned out my wife had been right to wonder whether people had taken off the holiday. The second team -- no Chef Dixon, no owner out front -- had ruined the tuna and served the fig tart with watermelon. Don't let that anomaly keep you away. Bistro Blanc still serves terrific food, and there are surprises -- of the good kind -- yet to eat out there.
(Update: There are some detailed comments about Bistro Blanc below. Read them. Trip Klaus writes great reviews on Urbanspoon. Lukes appears to be starting a food blog, and I'm always trying to support the locals.)
If you enjoy seasonal cuisine, definitely check out Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore and Iron Bridge in Columbia. Because Bistro Blanc is on Rte 32 just south of I-70, it would be fun to pair with a visit to Larriland for pick-your-own apples and pumpkins this fall.
(Update: I put Bistro Blanc on my Top 10 list. Click here for the 2009 "best restaurants" in Howard County.)
3800 Ten Oaks Rd
Glenelg, MD 21737
NEAR: Drive west on Rte 32. It is a really easy drive about 11 miles west of Rte 108. Take the exit ramp for Ten Oaks Road. At the top of the ramp, use the traffic circle to cross back over Rte 32 on the new bridge. On the other side, use the traffic circle to go on Ten Oaks Road. Ten Oaks runs parallel to Rte 32, and you have basically headed back in the opposite direction. Bistro Blanc is on the right in the first shopping center.