Hotel restaurants really run the gamut. At their best, like B&O American Brasserie at the Hotel Monaco or Pabu at the Four Seasons, they seem to exist independently of their host, with an identity and reputation all their own-in those two cases, reputations for being among the best places to eat in town. But often, and particularly with more mid-range hotels, the restaurants tend to be afterthoughts: shiny, decorative locations to have a meal and a drink, but rarely is much attention paid to the quality of the food.
Scoozi (5100 Falls Road,  435-3316), the new restaurant at the Radisson in Cross Keys, clearly had ambitions to be closer to the former category. Donna McCulloch, the hotel's food and beverage director, told The Sun as much back in October, when they announced plans for the restaurant, which replaced Crossroads. "We want to run it independently," she said. "It doesn't look anything like a hotel restaurant."
She's right, to a degree. The hardwood tables, marble-top bar, and elegant light fixtures lend the space an upscale, if slightly generic appeal. But the odd shape of the space is confounding. Coming from the hotel lobby, you first encounter the bar, which looks to be a standalone spot but is actually part of the restaurant, then a cafe counter (with a chalkboard reading "Scoozi Cafe"). Keep walking around the corner and you get to a chef's station, where the coal-fired oven is blazing by a couple tables. Keep walking, past the kitchen, and you finally get to a larger space with booths and tables that looks more like a dining room.
Menus come on iPads-a first for us-but what initially seems like an interesting, innovative idea turns out to be more of a lost opportunity. Diners don't actually order from the iPads ("They haven't cut us out of the equation entirely," quipped our friendly server), only scroll through electronic pages rather than flip paper ones. Clicking on the items sometimes, but not always, leads to a picture, but the pictures often turn out to be drastically different than the dishes served, in one case laughably so. And the time the server spent explaining how to use the iPads (and we spent dismissing intermittent alerts from ours, which was about to run out of battery) didn't quite warrant the limited usefulness.
The options here are broad, generally Italian but inclusive enough to include steak frites and crab cake options. The wine list is lengthy and helpful to non-oenophiles, broken down into categories-crisp, soft, and rich for whites, and juicy, smooth, and bold for the reds-if a little pricey compared to the rest of the menu, with only one of the 12 reds available by the glass south of $10.
We started with the shortrib arancini pomodoro ($8), in which the meat was packed inside balls of risotto and served on top of tomato sauce. It was a lovely plate, and the meat was nicely cooked, but the taste was generally bland, especially the sauce, which didn't seem too far off from Ragu. The she-crab soup ($6 for a cup) was more flavorful but not as rich as it should have been. Among the primi, the pappardelle a la grana padona ($12 for half-share/$20 for full), with ribbon pasta, smoked chicken, asparagus, Grana Padano cream, and toasted chorizo breadcrumbs, was a highlight, appropriately rich and weighty. But, like many of the other dishes we tried, the ingredients lacked a freshness, and the overall effect wasn't as flavorful as it could have been.
We had more success with the pizzas. The simple margherita ($13), with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil, had a nice, crispy crust. There were several other intriguing options, including the Kennett Square-with local wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, garlic-herb-ricotta cream, and white truffle oil-but we opted for the giardinia ($14), with roasted red peppers, wild mushrooms, arugula, caramelized onion, and hearth-roasted chili, partially on the basis of the picture that popped up on our iPad menu. In the picture, the bright toppings erupted from the pie like a topographical map and the fresh arugula was piled in the middle-it looked enticing and atypical-but it arrived looked like a standard veggie pizza, with limp, overcooked vegetables (including the arugula) peeking out from the cheese. Still, the crust was solid, and if we hadn't been teased by the picture, we might have been more satisfied with what we got.
The dessert options include a root beer float and Taharka Brothers ice cream, but we opted for the turtle molten ($7), a chocolate bundt cake with caramel sauce inside. It was definitely tasty but also a little pro forma, with caramel sauce that we're guessing came in a package. In the end, Scoozi seems well-suited to be a hotel restaurant-attractive and perfectly acceptable for dinner when you're in a strange city and don't feel like venturing out-but without much of an identity beyond its utility and not necessarily worth a special trip for those of us in town for more than a few nights.
Scoozi is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.Copyright © 2015, Baltimore City Paper