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Bistro Blanc in Glenelg (Western Howard County)

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Bistro Blanc has served my best meal in Howard County and the worst meal of my life.

You should check out Bistro Blanc on Rte 32 in Glenelg. You can get spectacular food. Imaginative food. A meal that Elizabeth Large thinks is worth a drive from Baltimore, so it's a no-brainer if you're lucky enough to live around here. But you need to be a tough customer.

Bistro Blanc is trendy in the best possible way. The seasonal trend means changing, imaginative dishes. Small plates let you experiment and share a table's worth of fun. These are the trends that spawned Woodberry Kitchen and Iron Bridge Wine Co, and they created a magical meal on my first visit to Bistro Blanc. We thrilled through a series of bright, full flavors. A watermelon carpaccio. An avocado soup. A cheese tart with plums. Each course was inventive, then exceeded by the next. We ended with an herbed panna cotta that was so perfect that I strained to remember the details of the dishes that came before. I left convinced that it was the best restaurant in Howard County.

That is why our Labor Day weekend disaster was such a surprise. We went back so that I could profile Bistro Blanc energized by great food, and we ended up with bad food and bad service. Really bad service. I have set aside my overly-detailed, overtly-angry first draft and offer instead some basic advice:

  • If you get anything bad at Bistro Blanc, send it back immediately. Don't smile politely when they say your fig tart has no figs because they're out of season. Ask for a different dish. Bistro Blanc wants to serve magical food. If they fall short, tell someone -- politely. They want you happy.
  • Stay on top of your waiter. Don't expect perfection. Both times, waiters we liked were a bit goofy and mis-described the menu or food. Fine with us. But our Labor Day disaster occurred because our main waitress took our order and never returned even though we were sitting 15 feet from the manager. By the time I made my stand, we had been abandoned to bad food and dirty dishes, and our evening was a mess.

Nothing at Bistro Blanc should be a mess. When the kitchen is on, the dishes are beautiful. Unique, sculptural plates with unique, sculptural food. The chef Marc Dixon started at Iron Bridge, and Bistro Blanc shares the same concept of wine store / wine bar / restaurant. I love Iron Bridge for the cozy atmosphere and the sometimes funny food -- the "burger, fries and a milkshake" that Mrs. HowChow and I still talk about. Bistro Blanc is more precise than funny. Imagine a fruit and cheese tart covered with greens on plate dotted with sauces. That could be a vegetarian thicket of bitter lettuces, but it came together beautifully. Great flavor. The illusion that I controlled the dish by dipping in sauces, but the truth was that the chef had thought out each piece and assembled something that I would never imagine at home. (And it would have been worth ordering if it had figs.)

Bistro Blanc's owner heard about my disaster because I mentioned it to someone he knows. The owner emailed to apologize. It turned out my wife had been right to wonder whether people had taken off the holiday. The second team -- no Chef Dixon, no owner out front -- had ruined the tuna and served the fig tart with watermelon. Don't let that anomaly keep you away. Bistro Blanc still serves terrific food, and there are surprises -- of the good kind -- yet to eat out there.

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One bit of news for local diners -- Bistro Blanc in Glenelg is opening a new "cellar" room next week for private dining and a chef table looking into the kitchen.

This is a standard these days in city restaurants. But the only similar experience that I have heard about in Howard County is Aida Bistro. Rajneesh emailed me about the new space, which they have renovated and will soon outfit with a custom chef table.

The new space is on the same level as the main dining room, but renovated out like a stone cellar. Rajneesh says they will be able to accomodate 18 for private dining and eight for the chef table looking into the kitchen. We actually chose Bistro Blanc for my birthday, and I'm months late to write an update post.

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