New name, new owners, new menu. The Point in Fells is aggressively trying to carve out its own identity in a space that has been known for most of its existence as Miss Irene’s. And, so far, we’re liking the results.
In its previous reincarnations, the building housed a rough-and-tumble bar (eventually named after its no-nonsense owner Miss Irene), a short-lived Mediterranean bistro, and an even shorter-lived oyster bar. Now, the latest proprietors—Erica Russo and her parents Edie and Jimmy Chin—are offering New American cuisine with small and large plates and a pub-grub menu to meet the taste buds and wallets of most diners.
The chef, Jacob Raitt, was a sous chef at the acclaimed Bistro Blanc in Howard County before bringing his skills to the new kitchen with dishes like braised pork belly, black tiger shrimp, and tuna ceviche. “We’re trying to step out of the box,” explained Raitt when The Point opened in May.
His creativity is definitely showcased in a captivating mashup of ingredients. For instance, a recent special featured a sweet, white-fleshed wolf fish—our server went into quite a tale about how this ferocious-looking specimen is often scooped up inadvertently in trawling nets—with a creamy caulifower purée, asparagus, and fava beans. Another plate treated medallions of monkfish to a gentle combo of crisp English peas and slightly salty pancetta countered nicely by sweet onions, carbonara-style.
If the restaurant has a signature dish, it’s The Point steak and eggs. A grilled filet, glazed with red wine, is topped with a quivery fried quail egg and surrounded by a hearty Yukon potato hash and white and green asparagus stalks. It’s quite a deal at $22.
We weren’t as thrilled with the grilled pork loin, a tough, overdone slug of meat. The sides appeased us, though: a colorful Southwestern corn succotash, jasmine rice pilaf, amazingly flavorful chunks of pork cheek, and a sunny peach ragù.
The small plates provide a burst of flavor, too. The simple pan-seared scallops were wonderfully tropical with plantains dusted with chili powder, fragrant mango chutney, and coconut aioli—a taste of the Caribbean by the Chesapeake.
We also liked the clean presentation of the forest-mushroom salad. Chilled threads of udon noodles were a textural asset to water chestnuts, sliced green onions, and an earthy mix of sliced mushrooms sprinkled with a ponzu vinaigrette, adding a surprise citrus note.
The avocado and blue crab parfait was also outstanding with a fine dice of cucumbers and a slurry of sweet-red-pepper soup, more like a sauce, on the side. A chilled heirloom tomato gazpacho was spicy with chili undertones that were soothed by perfumed mango slices.
We always appreciate a chef’s attention to the seasons. At the height of fresh berries, the kitchen was turning out desserts like a strawberry shortcake, prepared traditionally with biscuits filled with fruit and a puff of whipped cream, and a combo of ripe blueberries and strawberries laced with thick cream.
The ice-cream trio featured three lacrosse-ball scoops of cotton candy, peach, and chocolate ice creams. The peach and chocolate subtly captured their individual flavors, but the cotton-candy ice cream tasted just like the carnival treat, too scarily pink and sugary for us.
Then, we waited and waited for the check. The meal already had taken almost three hours. And while the upstairs dining room is pretty and peaceful with hardwood floors, wrought-iron chandeliers, white tablecloths, and a beautiful view of the nighttime harbor and lit-up Domino Sugar sign, we weren’t lingering on purpose.
Our waiter, a pleasant grad student, was having trouble keeping up with his tables. He never asked to refill wine or water glasses, and we pretty much lost his attention by dessert. We chalk it up to him learning the ropes. But be prepared.
You could always just sit at the bar and dabble in the pub-grub menu. Options include a locally-raised beef slider, grilled wings with a choice of sauces, and flatbread pizzas.
The downstairs area is mostly dark wood with an elegant L-shaped bar surrounded by bare tables. (The restaurant was refurbished by a previous owner, who said at the time that he had spent a “ton of money” on the transformation.) It’s bistro comfortable and friendly. There’s outside seating, too.
We stopped by for lunch one Friday and had a modern-day grilled cheese (provolone) sandwich with heirloom tomatoes, spinach pesto, fresh basil, and tart balsamic vinegar. The colorful, house-made coleslaw with purple and green cabbage had wonderful shreds of fennel, too, lending a welcome hint of anise to the mix.
The new Miss Irene’s—oops, we’re afraid that name is going to be hard to shake—we mean, The Point has found a niche by wisely offering reasonably priced, well-prepared, seasonal foods that give customers a lot of options. Go ahead. Order a half-roasted chicken for $18 or a mess of Yukon potato chips with Parmesan cheese, rosemary, and truffle oil for only $6. And don’t forget Thursday’s $15 pasta night.