Everyone seems to be harping on how this space in Lutherville's Green Spring Station used to house several other restaurants that didn't fare well. That's true, but that's history. Let's move on. It's time to focus on the here and now, and the now seems to be doing well if the crowds are any indication.
A Tark's waiter told us that every night is packed with patrons in the bar and dining area. Indeed, there's a noisy, fun vibe with people, drinks in hand, spilling out onto the patio area, where a fireplace casts a cheerful glow on a warm, spring evening. There's even a happy yellow Lab in the outdoor mix.
The redesigned restaurant has a sleek look with dark wood, seductive red and black accouterments, pristine white tablecloths, and pretty photos of Baltimore on the walls. Think modern bistro with updated American food classics to complete the ambiance.
You can eat lighter fare, like burgers, salads, and sandwiches, or go the heartier route with generous-size entrées, from steaks to crab cakes. There are also comfort-food items like chicken potpie, baby back ribs, and meatloaf in the specialties section of the menu. The wine list offers a decent selection by the glass or bottle, representing Italy, Australia, California, and other grape-growing areas. Maryland's Boordy Vineyards gets a nod with a blush offering.
The long, narrow dining room is jammed with tables and banquettes. Mirrors deflect some of the closeness, but your neighbors aren't far away. The din is immediately noticeable. Servers must dance around each other in well-choreographed steps to maneuver their stations.
Even during lunch, there's no let up in the people flocking there to check out the revamped space. During one midday visit, a friend and I were seated at one of the two-top tables lined against the wall—fingertips it seemed from our fellow diners. It was tight quarters, even if you're not a large person. You can't help but bang into things as you squiggle to get seated.
Coincidentally, I received a call later that day at my office from one half of another duo who had been there that afternoon. Her husband, a strapping 6-foot-5 dude, was definitely squeezed into the space and quite uncomfortable, she said.
Our food, though, was perfectly fine. The warm spinach salad was fresh and splendid. Tender baby spinach leaves, sautéed mushrooms, bacon, and hard-cooked egg got a nice turn from the Dijon dressing. Our other dish, Maryland seafood cobb salad, was an immense bowl of chopped goodies piled high with shrimp, crab, and scallops. Service was unobtrusive, although we did have to flag down our waiter for the check to get back to work on time.
We had high hopes for another visit for dinner. That night, our waiter was charmingly pleasant, but his eagerness to serve us made us feel rushed as he interrupted our conversation several times to see if we were ready to order. After that, service flowed at a consistent pace. Drinks were served immediately, and courses came at appropriate intervals.
We started out with the soup of the day, potato leek, a flavorful, creamy purée that could have been hotter. The bruschetta was nicely prepared with grilled ciabatta bread slathered with olive oil and garlic, chopped tomato and mozzarella, and heavenly slivers of garden-fresh basil. But the most impressive appetizer was the crabatini served in an elegant silver martini glass. Jumbo lumps of crab were dressed with a delicate but tongue-tingling wasabi sauce and hint of Old Bay amid a nest of lettuce leaves.
For entrées, we settled on chicken and shrimp pasta, the cedar plank salmon, and Tark's signature grilled T-bone. The pasta dish was a colorful presentation of angel hair, artichoke slices, and roasted peppers tossed with chicken and shrimp. The kitchen also excelled with the flaky center-cut salmon glazed with a subtle chipotle-raspberry sauce that didn't overpower the fish. But it stumbled in a big way with our steak.
When a restaurant prominently makes a point of what cooking temperatures should be on the menu and when you've discussed it with the server, you feel confident you'll get the rare beef you ordered, or as the menu describes it, one with a "very red, cool center." Sadly, our giant 20-ounce charred slab was medium at best, and chewy.
The steak came with crispy shoestring potatoes and choice of another vegetable. My carnivore friend couldn't have been happier with her creamed spinach—gently cooked spinach leaves bathed in sinfully rich cream. Our other accompaniments—flavorful sweet potato fries and unadorned, crisp-tender green beans—were also successful.
Desserts are not prepared on the premises but come from several local bakeries, our server told us. The piquant lemon tart and old-fashioned chocolate layer cake with a decadent ganache were decent renditions, but the standout was the moist coconut pound cake imbued with sweet coconut. No need for icing on this cake.
We think the new owners have come up with a winning formula for satisfying customers who seem hungry for Tark's to succeed. With a little more attention to cooking the steaks, we see the restaurant packing in even more diners over time.