Marie Louise Bistro leaves 'Dandy Diners' with an empty feeling - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Marie Louise Bistro leaves ‘Dandy Diners’ with an empty feeling

Saturday night in Baltimore.  What could be better than a reservation for dinner at a beautiful downtown restaurant, followed by seats to a sold out performance of a popular play at Centerstage?  Nothing, unless you find yourself watching the play on a mostly empty stomach.

That is what happened to the Dandy Diners on our foray to Mt. Vernon during restaurant week.  Not a good way to kick off our inaugural column for the Baltimore Post-Examiner.

The offending establishment was Marie Louise Bistro at 904 North Charles St.  Marie Louise is a  Mount Vernon cafe specializing in a mix of French, Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.  The bistro was chosen for its proximity to Centerstage and because it was one of the many venues  participating in Baltimore Restaurant Week.

Presented by Downtown Partnership and Visit Baltimore, Restaurant Week in Baltimore is a time where local establishments can feature their fare to customers anxious to try something special at popular prices.  According to the official website,

“Baltimore Restaurant Week is the largest and most successful dining event in the metro area. Baltimore Restaurant Week was launched with the intention of spotlighting Downtown Baltimore as a premier dining destination. Held twice annually, this popular culinary tradition features more than 80 of Baltimore’s best restaurants offering fixed price, three-course meals for $30.13 and $20.13. Plus, some restaurants are offering two-course lunch menus for $15.13.

Bread Basket

A bread basket arrived with several slices of a warm baguette accompanied by a scoop of butter.

There are no tickets or passes required. Food lovers may simply dine out at as many participating restaurants as they like during Baltimore Restaurant Week, explore new dining opportunities or enjoy old favorites. Advance reservations are strongly recommended and can be made by visiting OpenTable.com or by calling restaurants directly.”

Of the some 115 restaurants listed (yes, we counted them) on the Baltimore Restaurant Week guide, only Marie Louise Bistro and Ciao Bella in Little Italy did not post their actual prix fixe menu.  In retrospect, this should have been a clear danger sign.

We had 8:00PM tickets for the show at Centerstage, so dining in Mt Vernon seemed to make perfect sense.  Marie Louise said they could seat two at 6:15 – plenty of time one would think to have a relaxing meal before making the five minute walk to the theater.  The bistro was packed when we arrived; good news for the elegant eatery.  After a short wait, during which time we got to ogle a glass case full of sinful treats, we were seated at a table for two beside a brick bearing wall.  Our waitress was friendly and offered us both the prix fixe placard and the regular menu.

A quick glance at the prix fixe placard revealed that the third course was a choice between a dessert or a glass of wine.  The selections we’d seen in the glass case – chocolate truffles, almond frangipane and an assortment of iced cakes and fruit tarts – looked absolutely heart stopping, which they may be to those on restricted diets.  Substituting a glass of wine also squeezes out guests who, for various reasons, do not imbibe.  Marie Louise is not alone here; a glance at the menus posted on the restaurant week website revealed that most of the participating establishments followed the same script.  It might be nice in the future if these establishments could adjust their special menus to allow for the increasingly common dietary concerns of potential patrons.

Since the prix fixe menu did not offer us acceptable third course options, we made our selections from the regular menu.  I chose the Spanish Black Bean soup ($4.50) to start and followed with the Hanger Steak ($21.95) with lyonnaise potatoes and haricot verts.  I also ordered a serving of Steamed Broccoli ($4.95) with roasted garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes.

My dinner partner, Davina, started with a Bistro Salad ($7.95) of mixed greens, walnuts, goat cheese, English cucumber and red onion with parmigiana vinaigrette dressing followed by Fish & Chips ($18.95) – a breaded and fried white fish served with basil crab salad and pommes frites.

A bread basket arrived with several slices of a warm, crusty baguette accompanied by a scalloped scoop of butter.  When our starters arrived, about twenty minutes later, we eagerly dug in.

The soup was hot and savory, a nice blend of slightly pureed black beans with a sprinkling of freshly diced onions and a dollop of sour cream dressing on the top.

Davina said her salad was satisfying though not outstanding. It was lightly dressed with Parmigiana Vinaigrette, which she prefers to a salad dripping in dressing. The goat cheese was creamy and the kitchen was generous with the walnuts.

Once finished with our starters, we anxiously waited for our meals to come out.  And we waited. And we waited.  At about 7:00, we noticed that we were not alone in this waiting game.  Almost no one at the neighboring tables had been served their main courses.  An embarrassed bus boy brought us another basket of bread as we checked the time.  This began a very uneasy clock watch.  How long could we wait and still have a reasonable amount of time to enjoy our meals, pay the check and still make it to the theater without feeling rushed?  We calculated that 7:15 would be the cut-off time.  Unfortunately, our waitress did not reappear until almost 7:30.  I flagged her down and asked for the check.  She replied, “Oh, I’m sorry – your food should be coming right out.”  I replied that we had tickets for the theater and couldn’t afford to wait any longer.  My companion had to tell our waitress the exact same thing when she finally returned with our check.

If one could add insult to the injury of not serving the meals, it was finding those meals listed anyway on the check we were given.  It was simple enough to do the math in adding one salad and one bowl of soup, but it was an exercise the waitress surely should have spared two unhappy customers.  At no point did anyone from management offer an explanation or an apology.  After the show, we ended up settling for a late night pizza.

Reviews on several travel sites say the food at Marie Louise Bistro is good.  We’ll never know.  In the restaurant world, diners seldom return if they’ve had a bad first experience.  Based on our outing, we would suggest our readers try any one of the other establishments listed on the Baltimore Restaurant Week website before taking a chance on an evening at Marie Louise Bistro.


About the author

Dandy Diners

The Dandy Diners are a group of feisty friends who simply love to dine out. The group features an opinionated cast with extensive experience in the entertainment, culinary arts and service industries. Contact the author.
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