1425 Aliceanna Street, Baltimore, MD 21231 (https://www.barvasquez.com/)
** and 1/2 (Good/Very Good)
We tend to have good luck when it comes to Baltimore restaurateurs. Spike and Amy Gjerde, and their fantastic tandem: Woodberry Kitchen and Parts & Labor (and the excellent Artifact Coffee), have always served us well in Clipper Mill/Hampden/Charles Village. But for restaurateurs in Harbor East, look no further than Foreman-Wolf, the duo behind many of the city’s best, including the excellent Charleston, and the newly-opened Bar Vasquez. So when our friends recommended trying the newest venture from Chef Wolf, we gladly accepted. With the most recent Wolf-helmed dinner under our belts, I think it’s safe to say that our lucky streak continues.
Bar Vasquez, a new Argentinian concept, replaced the Italian-leaning Pazo, after the latter closed this past fall. Though it had been a few years since dining in the former Pazo space, I immediately recognize the layout of the new Bar Vasquez: a two-floor former warehouse which mixes finer touches with a rustic exterior. The first floor houses big warm banquettes, smaller tables, a large bar, and a stage. The second floor is more of a formal sit-down area, with white table cloths and suited servers. In particular, it’s the formality of the second floor which provides some warmth and elegance to the space.
Service is prompt and polished, but it does not diminish from the flair and friendliness of the staff. My one complaint: a little too much of a push for more expensive wine recommendations. Overall, however, restaurants would do well to pay attention to the refined execution of the Bar Vasquez staff.
We begin dinner with Provoleta, a simple, grilled piece of cheese which is topped with a subtle oregano and chili oil. It pairs well with both the crostini served alongside, as well as the house-made breads. Another great starter: the Wood-Grilled Ruby Veal Lengua. The tongue (yes, tongue) is beautifully cooked; tender without becoming dry, and dressed with Criolla Sauce, a South American salsa.
Moving along to the main courses, we opt to stick with the beef that Argentina is so well known for. Though, we didn’t get a taste, the Ojo de Bife looked perfectly cooked, and our dinner companion has no problem putting away the entire steak. Asado Mixed Grille, meanwhile, is a meal fit for two. 30 total ounces of meat, including a 24 ounce bone-in ribeye, sweetbread, and two different sausages are served alongside charred corn, scallions, peppers, and topped with chimichurri. The steak is cooked to the right temperature (a must), nicely marbled, and paired well with the garlic and fresh herbs in the chimichurri. Both the Argentinian pork sausage and the Morcilla (blood sausage) are worthy of the plate, but the savory punch of the classic pork sausage makes it a standout.
Thinking about sides? Pass on the Papas Fritas, which are simple thick cut french fries which don’t bring enough crunch to the table. The real star of the potatoes are the Malbec
aioli served alongside. (Malbec at Bar Vasquez is a theme, and a good one. Earlier in the meal, the table raved about a Malbec compound butter while chomping down on bread.) On the other hand, Charred Local Cauliflower lives up to its name and provides a deeply smokey taste, lightened a bit by lemon, chili, and parmesan. Similarly, Charred Yellow Corn shares the fire-roasted flavor of the cauliflower, with the natural sweetness from the corn. Another winner.
Keeping our streak going, we ensure that cheesecake, specifically Goat Cheese Cheesecake, is part of the dessert order. The goat cheese provides a tangy note to the cake and is a welcome contrast to the pistachio-laced caramel served
atop the cake. Pro tip: ignore the look of the dish, and dive right in; you won’t regret it. But my person favorite was a simple Ice Cream Sundae, featuring honeycomb ice cream, pistachios for crunch, and a delightful hot fudge sauce. Each part was great on its own accord; put together it made for a flawless sundae.
Being a restauranteur can’t be an easy gig. Keeping a single restaurant running and thriving is a full-time job on its own. And yet, Chef Wolf’s third venture in the Harbor East neighborhood is living up to its owner’s lofty laurels. Bottom line: lucky for all of us, Chef Wolf and her team have continued their streak of restaurant excellence going with Bar Vasquez.
Atmosphere: The restaurant is former home of Pazo, an Italian restaurant, also from the Foreman-Wolf pairing. From my recollection, very little has changed since the restaurant’s Pazo days: the building is still a retrofitted warehouse with two floors. On the first, a bar, banquettes, and more casual dining all point toward a main stage. On the second (which is less a level, and more a wraparound balcony), more formal dining, including white table linens) overlook the stage and first floor. Our server had flare, personality, and excellent decorum, but was a little heavy on the upsell (at least with the wine).
Noise: Moderate. There’s a gentleness to the buzz in the restaurant, as most of the sounds are coming from a main stage on the first floor, where live music is being played. Conversations are easy to come by.
Recommended Dishes: Provoleta, Wood-Grilled Ruby Veal Lengua, Asado Mixed Grille, Charred Local Cauliflower, Charred Yellow Corn, Ice Cream Sundae
Reservations: Recommended. We managed to secure a last minute reservation for our table, only after our friends called and picked up a last minute cancellation. Even at 8pm, the dining room seemed to be relatively filled.
$$$$ – $100 to $150 for dinner for two