Townhouse Kitchen + Bar seems to have an identity crisis. The centerpiece bar with a lineup of TVs, the number of communal tables, and the (really) loud music scream let-the-good-times-roll drinking establishment, albeit a fancy one. (After all, the restaurant is in Harbor East.) The elegantly prepared food on creatively presented plates, however, promises a night-on-the town dining experience meant to be savored in a more hushed setting. The two personalities just don’t jibe.
But if you can tolerate the noise and lively happy-hour atmosphere, you’ll be treated to a fine meal by executive chef Antonio Garcia, who jazzes up American fare with Latin, Asian, and Mediterranean influences.
Try to secure a booth in the rear of the restaurant. The sumptuous mocha-brown-leather seating will give you a modicum of privacy and a slight distance from the hub. The restaurant also has tables with self-serve beer taps (some even dispense vodka!), if that’s your mission.
The overall look of the place is modern-industrial chic with dark woods, exposed ductwork, and big photos of eyes following you around the room (less creepy than it sounds). A lounge with sleek couches sits off to one side while a private-party area is located at another end of the room. Essentially, it’s configured to optimize socializing, which explains one of the “house rules” listed on the menu: Feel free to talk to strangers.
And good luck with that. Talking is difficult even if you’re seated next to someone. Shouting is more the norm. But we persevered and had a terrific meal in the process.
We started with a couple of dishes from the “small plates” section of the menu. The yellowfin-tuna stack was as impressive visually as it was in taste. Small, crispy tortillas were layered with cubes of raw tuna and avocado-cucumber slaw atop swirls of chili oil and sweet maple syrup to create a nuanced Asian appetizer.
The roasted-red-pepper hummus was a table pleaser with long slices of cool cucumber and cumin-seasoned flatbread triangles as dippers. A kalamata-olive relish added another dimension to the dish.
One of the restaurant’s specialties is skewers (bacon-wrapped shrimp, beef tenderloin, and chicken) with various sauces that arrive at the table, hanging from a big silver hook. Sharing is a must.
We also split a Spanish pear salad, intrigued that one of the ingredients was Craisins (dried cranberries). The mixed greens were also plump with pecans and blue cheese as well as Sangria-poached pears, and gently coated with apple-cider vinaigrette amid a drizzle of balsamic glaze zigzagging the plate. Another beautiful presentation.
The entrees were as delicious as the starters. The lemon-rosemary chicken showcased a tender, pan-seared half-bird perched on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes in a puddle of white-wine sauce. We added a side dish of steamed broccolini for color and nutrients.
The horseradish-crusted salmon came with grilled asparagus, grape-tomato halves, and garlic mashed potatoes. The sweet fish suited the underlying zing of the horseradish.
The gooey butter cake may be one of the best desserts in town. House-made, as are the other choices, the single-layer square is humble in appearance but tastes wonderful with its moist interior and crackly top (like tapping into a crème brûlée). A scoop of vanilla ice cream and a bit of caramel sauce are probably unnecessary, but, oh, so good.
The bacon doughnuts are also a must-try. Again, they didn’t look like much—brown spheres resembling mahogany doughnut holes, but the flavor was terrific. Our server said they were made with bacon dough and sprinkled with candied bacon. There’s a scoop of ice cream included, too.
The service is sweet and helpful, though more eager beaver than professional. The waitresses on both our visits were more than willing to find out the answers to our food questions.
Even at lunchtime, the restaurant is loud. This time, we sat at one of the high-top communal tables and delved into a Townhouse burger—a fat beef patty with Gouda, arugula, oven-dried tomatoes, and tangy bacon jam on a soft brioche roll. The accompanying Old Bay fries were doused with the spice blend, just the way we like.
We also enjoyed seared tuna tacos, arranged on a rack that kept each one separate. The four corn tortillas—a little too flimsy—were stuffed with nuggets of cooked fish, guacamole, and slivered pickled vegetables that added an intriguing complexity.
We are great fans of the food at Townhouse. It’s just too bad the setting seems more geared to a party. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) And while this isn’t a place for a quiet tête-à-tête, the restaurant will feed you well amid the commotion.
Townhouse Kitchen + Bar. 1350 Lancaster St., 443-268-0323.
HOURS 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-12 a.m. Sun.-Mon. CUISINE American with Latin, Asian, and Mediterranean influences. PRICE Small plates: $4-15; entrees: $11-32; desserts: $5. ATMOSPHERE Industrial chic with open ductwork, a centerpiece bar, communal tables, and mocha-leather booths.