As soon as it opened in 2008, it was easy to spot the potential of BakerStreet, the gorgeous upscale steakhouse on Clinton Street.
But it took awhile for it to reach that potential and become one of my favorites.
It still has the fabulous looks and the ever-changing specials still keep the menu fresh and exciting.
But during my most recent visits, it seems the restaurant has come full circle. It still has potential, but is not up to the lofty standards it once exceeded.
One thing that BakerStreet does as well as anyplace is steak.
The featured Wagyu strip was impossible to pass on. Cedar plank roasted and topped with a bourbon compound butter, the meat was melt-in-your mouth tender, fatty and just extraordinary. The sautéed Swiss chard and bacon and chive duchess potatoes were great sides, and I also loved the little bonus of a few crispy onion straws.
Even the first soup I tried showed off BakerStreets steak prowess. The jalapeno steak and cheddar fondue had that jalapeno heat, but the steak was as tender as could be, and, with the cheddar in there, became pretty much the best Philly cheese steak soup you will find.
Filet tips were also the star in one of the recent pasta features, the beef tip Bolognese. Large pieces of, again, tender, delicious filet mignon were combined in a classic Bolognese with chopped carrot, celery, onions, tomatoes and smaller bits of BakerStreets beef trimmings. A more than generous amount of fresh Parmesan was used and coated each of those big pieces of filet.
The tips in the other pasta and steak dish I tried, however, were as bad as the ones in the Bolognese were good. The meat in the Beef Tips Marsala was dry and tough as leather. The sauce and mushrooms were OK, but I still found myself eating more of the whipped potatoes than the awful tips.
I was also a little disappointed with the BakerStreet burger. It was big, nicely seasoned and cooked to the right temperature, but it was no better than some big burgers I have had at taverns. For a place that prides itself on its beef, I expected more.
The buttermilk onion rings, an a la carte side, exceeded my expectations and were better than most taverns for sure. These big, thick-cut sweet onions were enveloped in a crispy batter with just the right amount of salt. They came with a spicy dipping sauce, but plain old ketchup is always the best option for onion rings.
The deep fryer worked wonders on many of BakerStreets appetizers.
The featured Southwest-style Chicken Croquettes were the best with black beans, sweet yellow corn, bacon and chicken rolled into balls, coated and deep fried. They were cheesy and corny and just fantastic. They were similar to the menu-staple Arancini – fried risotto croquettes with Ossian smoked ham and fresh mozzarella. The Arancini were a little creamier and the tender bits of ham were tasty.
The Ahi Wontons were less impressive. The skins were fried crisp and were topped with fresh tuna, spicy cucumber slaw and wasabi crème fraîche. The ahi was fresh, but I wish there had been more. The wasabi sauce was pretty much flavorless, especially when competing with another salty soy reduction on the plate.
The other soups I tried had mixed results. The featured cream of mushroom had a thick, rich cream base that absorbed the flavor of the shaved mushrooms. The lobster bisque – its signature soup – was too thin and a little scant on sweet lobster essence. It was just didnt wow me.
Another wowless item from the sea was BakerStreets Pretzel-crusted Tilapia. It was golden brown and the fish was perfectly cooked, but it was not at all crisp. The exterior was soft with no pretzel flavor, and that meant the mustard beurre blanc sauce did not work at all.
The pretzel crust was likely made with crumbs of BakerStreets popular pretzel bread, which is great – soft and slightly sweet. But it is obviously better with a smear of cinnamon butter than as a crust.
There was one very worthwhile appetizer from the sea – the blackened scallops. These plump, juicy, perfectly seared little jewels were garnished with walnuts and bleu cheese in a sweet and sour sauce that was much more sweet than sour. The sweetness was cut by the strong cheese and the very spicy blackening rub.
BakerStreet prides itself on making all desserts in house, and most of the ones I tried were stellar. The peanut butter pie was silky smooth with a fantastic chocolate crust. The Kiss Goodbye is a flourless, fudgy chocolate ganache cake served with a tangy raspberry sauce and a sweet crème anglaise (custard sauce), and topped with whipped cream.
But there was a dessert flop – the featured Chocolate Lava Cake. Three mini cakes that looked like muffins had oozing dark chocolate in the center, but that lava did not permeate the dry cake to make it moist. It, too, was quite bitter and the strawberry coulis garnish was even worse (think cold-medicine).
The unevenness in the food at BakerStreet was matched by uneven service. During one visit, appetizers arrived surprisingly fast, but the soups and my Chop-Chop Salad did not arrive chop-chop. I also waited way too long for mains and desserts. During another visit, my server was rather aloof; taking our appetizer order then returning not five minutes later to see whether we were ready to order an appetizer.
Other faux pas: the pretzel bread was served partly sliced with no knife to finish the job so my party had to awkwardly manhandle and tear at it; one of those blackened scallops was about the third of the size of the others; and there was an inedible garnish on one of the desserts.
And those things may seem small, but those small things added up, keeping BakerStreet from reaching its potential.
Address: 4820 N. Clinton St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Cuisine: Steak and seafood
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Kid-friendly: Yes, but more of an adult atmosphere
Menu: Blackened scallops ($14), Arancini ($10), ahi wontons ($13), beef tips ($20), tilapia ($19), desserts ($8)
** (3-star maximum);
atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).