Sauté, a tavern-style restaurant near Patterson Park, serves oysters and calamari that are fried, pork loin that is slow-roasted, and pizzas and steak that are grilled. Very few items are actually sautéed, but that doesn't matter. Most are quite good.
The restaurant, which seats about 100, has a sleek, almost Asian look, and, like many Baltimore restaurants, it is longer than it is wide, a configuration reinforced by the front-to-back wall separating the bar area from the dining room. Surprisingly, during our visit, the restaurant side was noisier, with well-heeled patrons fueling up on the likes of cowboy steak and seafood bouillabaisse, perhaps congratulating themselves on finding a new hot spot.
Look up "comfort food with a twist" in the dictionary, and you might find a menu like Sauté's. There are nachos, but they are topped with duck instead of ground beef; there's pork loin, but it comes with a side of sweet potato and apple-wood bacon hash.
Chefs Mark Suliga and Brian Mathias offer just a few entrées and appetizers, focusing on fresh ingredients and changing the menu seasonally, though favorites like grilled pizzas and filet mignon tend to stay.
The restaurant, which opened in late February and already has gone through a chef change, is still evolving. Some desserts aren't made in house, for example, and weekend brunch was only recently introduced. During our visit, service at first was quick, then slowed as the tables filled. Our amiable waitress did her best to keep up, but she seemed to be the only one working the restaurant side. Our water glasses remained empty, and we waited too long for our desserts, as she tended to other tables.
Our meal started with plump parmesan-fried oysters, a satisfying combination of seafood and crisp, peppery-cheesy crust. These were attractively presented, with squiggles of black-pepper dressing and béarnaise sauce on the plate, and a pile of field greens for color.
Even prettier was the tuna tartar appetizer—bright-pink slices of fish served alongside a stack of crackers, avocado, and a small salad. I couldn't quite figure out how you were supposed to assemble and eat the ingredients—maybe break the cracker and place the tuna and other ingredients on top? But the results were delicious anyway.
Pan-roasted chicken and vegetables is the kind of simple dish that can test a kitchen. We give Sauté a B-plus. The chicken, sliced with the skin still on, was exceptionally moist but lacked excitement, and the vegetables turned out to be the same mashed potatoes and green beans served with other entrees, not the roasted vegetables we were anticipating.
We really liked the fork-tender filet mignon with a fantastic balsamic glaze and a slight char from grilling. I could have lived without the silver-dollar-sized dollop of deep-fried blue cheese, though. It was so rich that it overpowered the steak. Also, we like to be warned if our meal will be different from what's on the menu. Go ahead and give us green beans instead of asparagus, just let us know.
Desserts, per the current craze, were staggering monuments to calorie consumption. We passed on the recommended deep-fried banana cheesecake and instead chose a strawberry cheesecake with a chocolate base and fudgey ganache top. The strawberries were difficult to detect, but we still made a pretty embarrassing dent in the giant portion.
Chances are, desserts made in-house would be better. Good as Sauté is, it has room to grow.