While it is a great excuse to dine out, Restaurant Week in Baltimore can sometimes be a hit or miss.
The pros – sometimes, Restaurant Week can be an unbelievable deal. In my memory, the best example of this was The Prime Rib, which I visited last year. For $35.10, we received a three-course meal, including the usual $50 prime rib. Damn. This year, the prefix dinner is $30, but with an additional $4 tacked on if you order the prime rib. Fair enough, I suppose.
The cons – the prefix menu can be a downright rip off at many restaurants (Who wants to pay $30 a person at La Tasca? Really?). Moreover, a menu made up of the cheapest offerings (a Caesar salad at Cinghiale?) is disappointing.
The point of my ramble is this – Restaurant Week is reasonable if the prefix menu is a reflection of the establishment’s specialties. This year, the deal is $30.12 for a three-course dinner and $15.12 for a two-course lunch. Corner BYOB, which I had neither tried nor read much about, caught my eye among the long list of participating restaurants. Corner BYOB, which opened last year, is known for offering “exotic” meats on its menu, including frog legs, veal bone marrow, kangaroo, antelope and rattlesnake.
The restaurant week menu offered three dishes that intrigued me – frog legs, pork cheeks, mussels and frites. In addition, the restaurant is BYOB (hence the name). Despite a silly corkage fee ($3 plus $1 per person), I still think it is a pretty good deal. While on the topic of silly fees, there is also a credit card “convenience” fee of $2 if you choose not to use cash. Oh, well.
Corner BYOB’s dining room is small, cozy and intimate. On our visit, we were seated in front of a big window that looked out onto West 36th Street (better known as “The Avenue”). The hostess, after pouring us water, spent a few minutes going over highlights of the restaurant week menu. Our waiter soon arrived and went over the menu again, excitedly describing the pork cheeks and one of the house specialty’s, the roasted duck. If the front of the house had this much enthusiasm for the food, I couldn’t even imagine what the kitchen was like.
We started with the frog legs (pictured, left) pan seared with a lemon, white wine and garlic butter sauce, and also the braised pork cheeks with Parmesan polenta and foie gras froth. Although I found the presentation of the frog legs sparse (a simple, frisee salad on the side would have been nice), they were quite tasty, reminding me of a cross between chicken and fish. I guessed that I was supposed to use my hands to eat the frog legs, evidenced by an accompanying bowl of warm water for rinsing after I finished.
The pork cheeks (pictured, below) were outstanding. They do infact come from the cheek of the pig, and must be slow cooked to fully render the flavor of the meat. Corner BYOB’s were incredibly tender, and paired nicely with the polenta. Although the frog legs were fun to eat, I think I preferred the pork cheeks flavor-wise.
For my entrée, I ordered the mussels and fries, one of my all time favorite dishes. Corner BYOB’s did not at all disappoint. The one-kilo pot of steaming hot mussels was paired with a cone of French fries and a delicious golden mayo dipping sauce. The mussels were cooked in a spicy sauce called Red Devil, containing red peppers, tomatoes and celery.
Paul ordered a perfect medium-rare pepper steak (pictured, below), flambeed in brandy and served with Brussels sprouts and potato croquettes. The potato croquettes excited me – we had made these gourmet “tater tots” a few months ago in culinary school! Of course, mine were not nearly as beautiful as the ones that were so artfully arranged on Paul’s plate.
The desserts were good as well, but not as notable as the appetizers and entrees. I wished the caramel sauce with my dessert, a fancy ice cream sandwich, was warmer. The menu labeled my dessert as “ice cream layered between genoise,” or sponge cake, which I found a bit misleading. The flaky pastry that sandwiched the caramel ice cream seemed more like a puff pastry than a genoise.
Overall, our meal at Corner BYOB was excellent. I loved the atmosphere, especially our view out onto 36th Street. Highlights from the meal were the mussels and fries, and the pork cheeks. For the Hampden neighborhood, Corner BYOB is a strong addition. With frontrunners The Dogwood, Grano and wine bar 13.5%, Corner BYOB fits into a neighborhood that is gradually becoming more upscale.