One sign that Regions has already acquired a following is that the only reservations available on a recent Saturday night were 5:15 and 8:45 p.m. We claimed the latter time but requested an earlier spot if one became available. The restaurant nicely followed up with several phone calls, eventually letting us know that we could be seated at 8.
By the time we walked into Regions, we were greeted as friends. All that attention made a terrific first impression, and our warm feeling toward the restaurant only grew—from our first step into the welcoming, rustic space to the last scrape of our forks on our dessert plates to scoop up the tart cheesecake filling in a fried Mexican-style confection called xangos.
Regions is a new sibling to Catonsville Gourmet, which opened in 2008. The two restaurants are only a few doors from each other on a downtown Catonsville street of wide sidewalks and local businesses, but each is different. Catonsville Gourmet focuses on seafood, while Regions serves more meats, pastas, and vegetarian dishes. Its name refers to the regions that inspire the cuisine: Maryland, Asia, France, the American Southwest, Italy, and New Orleans, with a category thrown in for comfort food.
The restaurant offers large and small plates, lots of specials (they rotate the most successful ones into the often-changing menu), and ingredients that adhere to the seasons. With such ambition, diners might wonder if the owners are more enamored with clever ideas than with serving good food. Not to worry—the kitchen at Regions sends out thoughtful, fresh, and balanced interpretations of the classics.
A starter of seared tuna with a sesame-seed crust was impeccably fresh and accompanied by a bracing vinegar-laced seaweed salad. We also liked our fat, crunchy fried oysters, even though, as with many dishes, we didn't know which region they were meant to represent. Maryland? New Orleans? But it didn't really matter.
A traditional combo of crab cakes and a filet mignon was also spot-on, with a mound of garlicky mashed potatoes and a jumbled pile of steamed sugar snap peas. Even though offerings like the grilled Caesar salad and fra-diavolo pasta may border on cliché, the kitchen is inventive with its specials and dishes like the French Quarter pasta, featuring a creamy sauce over tender pappardelle noodles that surprises the taste buds with a spicy jolt from chunks of andouille sausage amid the sweeter scallops and shrimp.
Regions is BYOB, and charges a $5 corkage fee for parties of five or less; $10 for six and more. It also has a dress code on its website stipulating "casually nice." Whatever it's doing is working. The restaurant is certainly packing them in, especially on weekends.