Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bistro Blanc in Glenelg

Bistro Blanc has served my best meal in Howard County and the worst meal of my life.

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.)

Bistro Blanc
3800 Ten Oaks Rd
Glenelg, MD 21737
(410) 489-7907

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.

DO NOT FOLLOW GOOGLE DIRECTIONS because they don't account for the new bridge that eliminated the "at grade" intersection of Rte 32 and Ten Oaks Road.

Bistro Blanc on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Oh no - I previously commented on my wonderful experience at Bistro Blanc during restaurant week (and my awful experience at Iron Bridge), so it's sad to hear that Bistro Blanc is "hit or disaster" too. For the price, you'd think these restaurants could get a better "B" team, or at least warn patrons when the "B" team is manning the kitchen. I guess I'll just have to try Woodberry Kitchen!

Trip Klaus said...

I have eaten here dozens of times and I can say that the only constant is the quality of the Chef Dixon. I've only had a couple of small complaints when he is not working like less turkey on my sandwich or fewer frites. I'm sorry to hear you had a truly bad experience with his assistants.

However, the owner and manager while seemingly gracious should leave the restaurant as the enviroment they create is amateur at best and the staff should be better trained.

I believe Chef Dixon is the best in HoCo but the restaurant is impeded from 4 star success by the above.

Stop again (perhaps calling to verify Chef Dixon is in residence)talk to the Chef anonymously to understand his ideas and voice your concerns and I bet you will have the best meal available in Howard County.

lukeswineaffair said...

My wife and I dined at the Bistro the Sunday prior to Labor Day and once again enjoyed an oustanding meal. We started off sharing the 'pig and fig' (which had figs so I'm not too sure why yours didn't ...) and their seared scallops. Both were simply phenom. You just can't go wrong with the pig. Our server was a lady who spoke with an accent my wife guessed to be (in this exact order) Ukranian/Czech/Russian. Either way she was more than pleasant if not a bit overly perhaps due to her being slightly out of her element?
All in all we had another great dinner at Bistro Blanc. They have yet to fall short of our expectations and we have been there Many times, with friends and family in tow.

If you are reading this and are on the fence, GO! The food is SO much better then iron bridge (I believe chef mark dixon was the original chef that opened iron bridge and the food has yet to recover from his departure)

I feel as though some bloggers Have this sense of moral obligation to society to focus on the 'negative' thus exposing the Truth. In most cases this is a great service for those of us looking for a new place, but seriously, if it's good than just say it. We're not trained food critics here and I think there are better ways to thump our chests to feel important.

HowChow said...

Lukes --

Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you're recommending that people try Bistro Blanc. My post recommends that as well.

I see your criticism of my piece. But, speaking bluntly, my post does not even discuss the most-negative parts of my meal. I have decided not to recount the details because I don't want to slash the entire restaurant and don't want HowChow to have a negative vibe. But I'm not exaggerating when I say that I have never had a more unpleasant dinner in a restaurant.

(The fig thing has become a joke in my house. It is just a minor example. I had assumed that they switched figs for watermelon because they ran out. My complaint was that no one mentioned the change when I ordered or when they served the dish. That looked like trying to slide it past me. But I just realized you and I were at the restaurant on the same night you ate "pig and fig" -- so they must have just been lying when they said that figs were out of season. I don't want to pound Bistro Blanc, but I think this makes my post seem more reasonable.)

It wasn't good, so I didn't just say that. I don't think HowChow concentrates on the negative, and I don't think I thump my chest to feel important. I'm surprised to get accused of both, but I'm cool with being criticized because I think the 500 posts here stand on their own. (Of course, I will remember that you ate my figs. ;-) )

lukeswineaffair said...

Funny. Had I known the importance of the fig I would have loved to 'rescue' your evening.
My wife and daughter have many running jokes at my expense. I'm curious if it was the restaurant's lack of an ingredient or perhaps your over reaction to their oversight that help create your's. Judging from your post I suspect it was the latter... Much like the majority of mine!

Trip Klaus said...

Apropos of nothing related to this post: just in case you hadn't noticed Bistro Blanc joined the wonderful list of parking lot eateries this week. Viva Howard County!

Anonymous said...

If you have had bad service experiences at Bistro Blanc in the past maybe you should give them another try. The restaurant recently benefited from Jordan's closing by acquiring four of Jordan's waitstaff. For any Jordan's regulars reading this Michael, Dale, Rob, and Gabrielle are now serving at Bistro Blanc. Hopefully they will bring front of the house experience to this restaurant and will be able to represent Chef Mark Dixon more professionally.

Anonymous said...

Just awful! I've been here many times over the past with hits & misses but last night was miss, after miss. From waiting for 1/2 hour for our table (which had been sitting empty) in the over crowded wine bar, to the rude hostesses, to the indifferent waiter (water boy was great), to the completely over salted entrees (guess that was why the water boy was so attentive), made this experience laughly bad. Yes, they were "polite" to fix things (free desserts but who cared by that point).

Anonymous said...

Entrée presentation is artistic, fresh ingredients, but portions are small and relatively expensive for remote Glenelg. Wine is also very expensive, little alternative for less. Beer too is high. A glass of Ca. petite syrah and a bottle of import cost over $20 at the bar, plus tip. That is way too much margin.

Unknown said...

I really appreciate your honest review and I understand that you don't want things to come across as negative on your blog. I have heard a lot of either very good or very, very bad reviews of Bistro Blanc. It is really quite a shame; I get the impression that they are only half-hearted in their attempt to create a really nice HoCo restaurant. Because of all the weird reviews I've read (and honestly, yours is one of the nicer ones), I have not tried Bistro Blanc yet. I'm also quite a bit put off by the fact that they serve rabbit. That is a little too family-pet for me to see on the menu. Even with the bad reviews, if rabbit was removed from the menu, I would give Bistro Blanc a try. If that ever happens (by 'that' I mean rabbit coming off the menu), I will let you know what I think (and if I like it enough, perhaps write a review on my blog as well). Thanks again for the honest review. Cheers!