But for richer Baltimore flavors, step beyond the hotel doors

You'd be hard pressed to find a restaurant as eager to please as the refurbished Yard in the Inner Harbor Marriott (110 S. Eutaw St., [410] 209-2853, marriott.com). Maybe the place has a lot to prove: Until lately, hotel restaurants in this town, especially those in the heavily tourist-trafficked areas around Pratt Street, have not always wowed us with their originality or authenticity.

The menu at The Yard is peppered with Baltimore flavors-an Old Bay-rimmed Bloody Mary, crab cakes, crab pretzels. There are also a few specialties that, while not yet part of the Charm City food lexicon, are clearly The Yard's attempt to enter the conversation-the BALTO sandwich ($13), a BLT with avocado and red onion, and the Yard dog ($12), a bacon-wrapped frank with fennel relish and brown-sugar mustard, for instance. (Speaking of language, I was bemused by the pit beef "grinder"-a mashup of a local style of grilled beef and slang for sub in my native New England.)

The Yard is a couple of blocks from its namesake, Camden Yards, and one assumes that the name, along with tributes to its neighboring landmarks in the form of mural-scale photographs of the Hippodrome and the Domino Sugars sign, signal a strong message to all who enter: We're in Baltimore.

The refurbished restaurant is only one part of a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Marriott's lobby, and the restaurant benefits from stained wood floors, modern light fixtures, and gray vinyl linen-like booths with pewter nailheads and comfy pillows. The restaurant stretches along the back of the lobby, with separate areas for a bar with a fireplace, a cozy dining room, and a space that can be used for events.

We're told the place gets busy on game nights, with a mix of O's fans and visitors-like the folks from Boston who have an easier time flying down here to see their team than scoring a ticket at Fenway.

The Yard has covered the bases of local-sourcing by trumpeting partnerships with Roseda beef, Springfield Farm, Stone Mill Bakery, and One Straw Farm on its printed menu. There are also logos from the Oyster Recovery Partnership and True Blue Maryland Crabs, signaling a commitment to sustainable seafood.

But in spite of all this-the warm updated bar, the familiar purveyors listed on the menu, the solicitous servers, and the happy hour drafts like Full Tilt and Duckpin-I felt a bit like I did on a trip to India, when every meal was taken in a hotel dining room. There, I was told, the food was much safer. Each day, I'd see dosas and chaap simmering in oil in the blackened pots of street vendors, heaps of cooked rice on the side, ready to be scooped into paper cones. These meals were almost never touched by Westerners, who would wait for similar curries, patties, and rice to be dished up from the hotel buffet.

The Yard's kale salad ($12) was dark green and fresh, sprinkled with chopped tomatoes, crumbles of feta, and shavings of carrot, dressed with a simple, light cumin-tinged vinaigrette. Kale salads seem to be the rage these days, but this one was unmemorable in its simplicity. Likewise, the rockfish ($25), as much a staple on menus in these parts as crab cakes, did all the right things. The pan-seared filet was served with snow peas and pearl pasta atop a swirl of carrot-infused broth. The flavors simply didn't meld into a harmony that sang out for another bite.

Perhaps most disappointing were the short ribs ($24), which were, true to their endorsement from our waiter, fall-off-the-bone tender. They were served in a rich (and salty) red-wine reduction, in a tiny Teflon pan that was meant to look like cast iron, presented on a smallish rectangular plate with sauteed chard on the side. What bothered me about this dish? The diminutive plates that prevented sauce from swirling about? The greens that had lost their crispness along the way? The too-richly salted sauce masking the flavor of the Roseda Farm beef?

We've become spoiled of late with restaurants that do Baltimore very well, even those in hotels. Places like B&O Brasserie and Wit & Wisdom have raised the hotel-eatery bar by appointing creative chefs who tout their love of all things Chesapeake and, like The Yard, use the products and proteins from local purveyors. But somehow the execution here is tempered, flavors muted, as if geared toward the moderate expectations of those who settle for the hotel dining room rather than venturing into the wilds of the surrounding city.

On a positive note: dessert. The ricotta donuts come out warm and redolent of a certain summery fried sugar; there's a Berger cookie served with malted milk; and truffle-like cheesecake bites, coated in dark chocolate, as well as Smith Island-style red velvet cake. And not-to-be missed is the Sweet Baby Jesus (adult) milkshake ($8.50), a sublime concoction of DuClaw's chocolate-and-peanut butter porter of the same name, mixed with ice cream from Prigel Family Creamery. Careful you don't suck it down too fast.

Honestly, I will return to The Yard. The decor is lovely, the drinks are great. Shared appetizers, like the mini crab cakes ($12) resting in a swirl of red pepper, are perfect for noshing. Plus, I can't think of a better meeting place for a local draft beer and an orange crush cocktail before an O's game.

The Yard is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Copyright © 2019, Baltimore City Paper, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Privacy Policy