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Homeland Security

Harborplace's M&S Grill is a Little Comforting, a Little Oppressive, and All American

Photo By Christopher Myers

M&S Grill

Address:201 E. Pratt St. Inner Harbor Area
Baltimore, MD 21202

More on M&S Grill.

By Richard Gorelick | Posted 12/3/2003

The McCormick and Schmick Management Group has recently opened it second M&S Grill--the first is in downtown Washington--in the Harborplace anchor position formerly tenanted by Planet Hollywood (and before that, the Limited--I love the '80s). Generously outfitted with dark wood and leather booths and moodily lit, this M&S Grill is an impressive-looking place. It means to remind us of the masculine metropolitan grills of a bygone era, and it mostly succeeds--for recovering this forlorn corner of Harborplace alone, we give it thanks--yet there's something inescapably corporate about the enterprise. It struck me what it and the nearby McCormick and Schmick's Seafood Restaurant remind me of: country-club restaurants. The menus here, too, profess a certain homeland security.

The spiel that servers at M&S Grill are compelled to give their guests is irksome. It has to do with how the restaurant reprints its menu twice a day, reflecting the availability of fresh seafood and meat, and how excellent the bar is at making "hand-built" cocktails. Waiters have enough to do without having to also parrot inane marketing jargon, and do patrons already in their seats really need to be so aggressively reassured?

M&S's menu of upscale tavern food is appealing, though, except perhaps to vegetarians, who don't have much to choose from here, even among the entrée salads and sandwiches. Appetizers include such inevitables as Buffalo chicken tenders, popcorn shrimp, and quesadillas. The entrées divide up into meat and poultry, seafood specialties, pastas, and what the menu dubs "M&S Grill Classics," their upscale renditions of nostalgic restaurant fare like chicken potpie, meat loaf, and pork chops.

On a preliminary visit to M&S Grill, I sat at the dark, serious bar and had a bowl of the French onion soup ($5.70). Topped with a generous slab of Gruyère and Parmesan cheese, the broth had the taste of real beef stock. It's been a long time since I've had French onion soup this persuasive, and it was a pleasure to go at it. Eating good soup at a clean bar in cold weather--isn't this why people live in cities?

For our meal at M&S Grill, we chose for our appetizers the (again, inevitable) spinach and artichoke dip, with added lump crabmeat ($8.70 without crab, $11.95 with). The version here is fine. Served in a fresh-tasting toasted bread bowl, the dip, though it could have been served a little hotter, was a tasty, not-too-creamy, not overly seasoned blend of vegetable dip and ample crabmeat. Providing steak knives for dealing with the bread bowl was a nice touch.

A sesame-seared pork tenderloin ($8.85) was an exemplary appetizer, one that aroused our taste buds. An entire loin was sliced into bite-sized pieces, placed in the center of an oval plate, with a spicy teriyaki sauce filling one side of the plate and a hot mustard sauce the other. Both complemented the tender pork, and the sesame seeds added texture and interest. A must-have.

M&S Grill also has a hanger steak ($16.95) on its menu, a now trendy but once rarely seen cut of steak, fatty but tough, that has made its way into American restaurants mainly in California and the Pacific Northwest. It's a cut that responds well to careful marinating, and the steak we tried here, made from certified Angus beef, sliced, and served in its own juices with blue cheese, tasted like it had been handled very well. Accompanying this were unassailable mashed potatoes and slightly undercooked asparagus spears.

The traditional pot roast ($16.80) succeeds on portion size alone. Enough for three meals, the roast was confidently browned but still tender and not mushy. The vegetables didn't come across quite as well: The red-skinned potatoes didn't get soft enough or absorb enough flavor, and the carrots were sliced too thin. Still, people tend to be picky about homespun fare like pot roast, and this one is worth trying.

Penne with salmon and wild mushrooms ($16.60) comes with roasted hazelnuts (roasted Oregon hazelnuts) and cream. Some of us found the cream sauce too bland, in need of some seasoning, perhaps even salt, but there was plenty of fresh salmon and sautéed mushrooms, and the hazelnuts added some surprising and satisfying crunch.

We didn't get to try the other seafood dishes--when we visited, the selections included Cape Fear swordfish ($21.95) and Georges Bank cod ($16.95)--but, of course, anyone who has come to appreciate McCormick and Schmick's for its fresh and seasonal American catches will need little encouragement to try the fish at M&S Grill.

Country-club sandwich:

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