Le Garage (911 W. 36th St.,  243-6300, legaragebaltimore.com), in the old Dogwood Restaurant space on the Avenue, seems a little ominous as you descend the long ramp into the bowels of the dining room. But once you get down there, it's actually very homey. There's a bar area with a few scattered high-top tables and the main dining room. Some of the booths are so dimly lit that we saw people using their smartphones as ersatz flashlights to read their menus, but that's what makes it cozy, right?
The beer list is ever-rotating with a number of Belgian, French, and local selections. The draft list skews a little bit high for our wallet, but we were pleased with the solid selection of $5 cans. We opted for a pour of the Brewer's Art Tiny Tim ($7.50), a rosemary and hibiscus infused Belgian-style ale, and a can of the Stillwater Yacht ($5), a crisp, herbal session lager.
Since Le Garage is touted as a frites shop, it only seemed appropriate to order some ($4.50 with one sauce, $.75 per extra sauce). They're incredibly thick cut, so despite being very browned, the crispiness was unfortunately pretty inconsistent. The smaller bits had a great crunchy texture but the longer frites were sad and limp. They also lacked any kind of noticeable seasoning—a bit more salt and a crack of black pepper would have gone a long way. The blank slate probably helps them more easily pair with the wide variety of available sauces, but it doesn't do any favors if you like a plain fry here and there.
Speaking of dipping sauces, the Big Boy Blue Cheese sauce was sadly disappointing—closer to a watery ranch than the creamy, funky blue we were expecting. More of it ended up dripped on our table than on our frites. The Chimichurri Aioli was much better—the herbal chimichurri cut the rich aioli perfectly without watering down the creamy texture. We've heard that the frites and sauces alike are all kind of hit or miss, so we'd probably skip them in the future in favor of some of their tastier offerings.
For instance, a spring appetizer not to skip is the mushroom veloute ($9) with smoked morels, miso, and a basil pistou drizzle. The soup itself was incredibly rich and creamy, with a hint of sweetness that was tempered with the savory miso. But the real star of the show was the pair of smoked morels plopped in the soup. The woodsy mushroom taste was taken over the top with the intense wood-smoke flavor. Save them for last. Trust us.
The best value of the night was the side of house-pickled veggies ($6). We were expecting a piddly plate of a few pickled cucumber slices. Nope. The generous platter containing seven different types of pickled veggies was a pleasant surprise. They weren't all winners—the mushrooms had a strange flavor we couldn't put our finger on—but the cauliflower, carrots, and radishes were all tasty without being too filling. The best part of the pickle platter (and perhaps of the whole meal) was the pickled red onion rings. A char on the grill before pickling gave these rings some very big flavor—it escalated a perfectly serviceable pickle plate to a must-order item. Screw the frites. Get the pickles as an appetizer instead.
While this isn't true of all of the entrees, the current vegetarian option, the green farro pasta ($10/$19), was available in a small and large size, which we were happy to see. After stuffing ourselves with frites, soup, and pickles, we were happy to plunk down a little less cash for a half-size main. Farro is just like, what, hipster wheat? We don't really know. But it made some really delicious, wholesome house-made noodles—thick cut, fresh, and delightfully chewy. The ragu was very springlike with a generous portion of sauteed leeks and green peas. The lemon breadcrumbs added a punch of acidic flavor with a bit of crunch that finished it off perfectly. We sometimes give restaurant pasta the side-eye because it is so often the thoughtless vegetarian dish—how many times have we had to order shrimp pasta, hold the shrimp? But this green farro pasta had absolutely nothing missing.
So what if you avoid all animal products? There is a vegan "umami bomb" sauce available with the frites, but we didn't try it (sorry!). And of course, there are the pickles, the grilled red onion pickles! But the butter and cream everywhere else on the menu suggests that perhaps Le Garage is not the best place for vegans. However, if you're down with dairy, they seem to know their way around a decent lacto-ovo meal. The options are limited for sure, but not in a way where it appears to be an afterthought. The chef has clearly considered how to make the seasonal produce really shine (through a glorious sheen of butterfat). It might not be our first choice for veggie eats, but if you owe a favor to a seafood lover in your life, you're not going to complain too much about your options.
The Vegetarian Option tells you all you need to know about going meatless in Baltimore in the places you'd least expect it.