Friday 6 December 2013

Restaurant Reviews - Baltimore, USA - Part 1

In November I spent a week in Baltimore for work, and then took the following week as holiday and visited Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Washington D.C. with my boyfriend, who flew out to join me. I noticed some stark differences between eating at restaurants in the US and in the UK. It made me realise that coming to the UK must be quite a shock in some ways for US visitors!

Baltimore harbour

For instance.....
In the US, your server tells you their name and brings you a glass of water almost as soon as you sit down at the table. In the UK, you have to ask for water if you want it, which is then usually greeted by the question "still or sparkling", and if you just want free tap water, you feel a bit of a cheapskate for asking. At least I do!

In the US, soft drinks are refilled free of charge, and usually without you having to ask your server. I was surprised the first time my server took my glass of coke when it was only half drunk, and I was about to protest when it was swiftly replaced with a "fresh" one. In the UK, it's very rare to be offered free refills.

In the US, a standard tip is around 20%; in the UK it's more like 10-15%.

If you order a cup of tea in a restaurant (even for breakfast) it won't come with milk (even in a jug) unless you specifically ask, and even then you are often given creamer, a long-life cream substitute in a mini round carton.

I had some fantastic meals while I was in the US and wanted to share a few restaurant reviews, though I will keep each one fairly brief. Starting with Baltimore, Maryland.

Renaissance Baltimore HarborPlace Hotel
This is where I stayed for the week I was working in Baltimore. I only ate breakfast here once, as I didn't want a huge amount of food in the mornings and instead preferred to go to Starbucks. When I sat down for breakfast in the hotel I was given a menu, and when the waiter came to take my order told me there was also a breakfast buffet, but I hadn't seen it from my seat and by then had decided what I was going to order. I went for pulled pork with biscuits (which are like scones) which was topped with a fried egg, but the pork was very dry and not really the sort of thing I would normally have for breakfast. It also came with a hash brown, which are a little different in America - they consist of shredded potato which I think is fried, but it falls apart as you eat it- it's not covered in breadcrumbs and something you can pick up as a whole thing like we have here. I also ordered tea but forgot to say that I wanted milk, so had to wait for the server to come back before I could ask for any. Overall though this was a good hotel and I found the concierge very helpful when I wanted to go somewhere, as I had previously had problems with taxi drivers not knowing where anything in Baltimore was.

pulled pork, biscuit and hash brown

This was actually the restaurant in my hotel (the Renaissance Harborplace) where I had dinner the night I arrived as I had heard good things about it and was too tired to go anywhere further. I ordered the Maryland crab cakes as they are a local speciality. They were delicious - I was expecting a crispy breadcrumb coating but instead the cakes were soft, and they tasted delicious. I had very good service, though there were hardly any diners in the restaurant so I had the staff's full attention. It's also well worth coming here for the view over the harbour. There weren't a huge amount of choices on the menu and it's not cheap - I paid $32 (about £20), for just the crabcakes, which came with fries, and the tip (I only drank tap water).

crabcakes and fries

Kona Grill
I went here with a work colleague and this is one of his favourite restaurants near the office; it's a steak and sushi chain. I was in the mood for pasta so ordered the penne with lemon shrimp which came with garlic bread. The waitress mentioned that the pasta was a bit spicy and I asked in what way as I don't really like spicy food, and she said it was sprinkled with chilli flakes. I said that would be fine but was hoping it wouldn't be too spicy, so I was surprised when the dish came and I couldn't taste any hint of chilli. I realised later that even when food is described as spicy on an American menu, it isn't always that spicy to a British palate! The food was very good; we sat in a booth which was good for privacy and service was fast and friendly.

M&S Grill
 This restaurant is part of a chain called McCormick & Schmick's, that has restaurants by that name and also M&S Grill, which I saw in both Baltimore and Washington D.C. It's located on the harbour in Baltimore, near some much cheaper and brasher chain restaurants like Cheesecake Factory and Five Guys (which I'm not knocking- I went to both of those more than once!) but this is a lot more up market. I went there for lunch with the guy who was my boss in London, who had recently transferred back to the Baltimore head office and taken up a new role. Even though it was November, it was a lovely day and we ate sitting outside in blazing sunshine. The restaurant specialises in steaks and seafood, and I love seafood so I ordered the crab-stuffed shrimp with mashed potato with a homemade lemonade to drink, which was very refreshing. The shrimp was delicate and delicious, but it was definitely a light lunch - a few shrimp and a small portion of mashed potato is not the most filling dish. Prices are a little on the steep side - my main course was $20 which doesn't sound a lot, but you could get twice as much food for half the price in one of the other restaurants along the harbour. But it is not really that expensive (as you will see from my review of the Oceanaire Seafood Room later) and definitely worth it - I highly recommend this restaurant.

 While I was in the Baltimore office, one of my colleagues brought in a dessert his wife had made called Heath Bar Pie. It was awesome and I am going to have to make it myself! It consists of a layer of chocolate brownie, a layer of Cool Whip (basically double cream) and crushed Heath bars on top. I even bought a few Heath bars back from the U.S. - he was surprised we don't have them here in the UK because they are described on the packet as English toffee - but they are made by Hershey!

Heath bar pie


  1. heath bar pie looks good!.

  2. Ah you're so lucky! I love D.C, never been to Baltimore tho but here it's pretty cool :) Yeah, I miss that about living in North America...always being brought cold water to the table straight away and often they'd be like 'did you want to order any drinks or are you fine just with water' like they didn't even care if you did or not which would NEVER happen over here! I definitely feel like a leper or something when I ask for tap water over here! and since I don't drink alcohol or fizzy drinks (root beer is my exception!) often in restaurants all I want is a tap water!


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