I felt like I was channeling chef/adventure eater Anthony Bourdain as I carefully cut into a grilled kangaroo tenderloin at Corner BYOB in Hampden recently. My friends were a little aghast that I was going to eat Roo. Actually, so was I—though the medium-rare loin was lean and delicious. Like ostrich meat, I thought, determined not to think of the Winnie the Pooh character.
You don't usually see this particular meat on Baltimore menus. Nor do you find yak, python, or black bear—all of which may turn up on chef Bernard Dehaene's menu at this new spot aptly named for its location at the intersection of 36th Street and Elm Avenue.
But the Brussels-born chef isn't trying to razzle-dazzle (or spook) diners. He's been cooking these creatures for a while. In fact, at his former Philadelphia restaurant Zot, he held occasional "Flintstone Dinners" with all manner of species in his kitchen—from lion and crickets to Thai water bugs. At press time, Dehaene was planning an Exotic Meat Club, so he could showcase these special offerings at Corner.
The restaurant is so much more than serving unusual "proteins," though. It delivers an array of dishes, which the chef describes as "a mix of Continental, European classical cooking with New American ingredients." You'll find such items as Dover sole meunière, beef stew made with Resurrection beer, roast cod, and a lamb brochette. Nothing scary or unfamiliar there!
I have to admit that I wasn't sure what to expect at this restaurant with its bland, unassuming exterior. Don't be misled.
Inside the former diner, the narrow space has been transformed into a cozy bistro with banquettes against the walls and bare wood tables. There are large picture windows, which provide a panorama of the outside pedestrians. And the cocoa-ebony color scheme is as sophisticated as the food.
The chef has been in the United States since 1985 and has been involved in several restaurants, including Mannequin Pis in Olney. He also spent time in Baltimore in the '90s at Café des Artistes in Mt. Washington and is glad to be back in town. "I love Baltimore, the people and atmosphere," he says.
Given Dehaene's heritage, there are Belgian leanings on the Corner menu, too, such as mussels by the kilopot served with a cone of hot, salty fries and golden mayo. You can choose from several different preparations, including traditional marinière with white wine and herbs; Bruxelles with goat cheese, bacon and leeks; and curry and coconut milk.
We picked the harissa-spiced Red Devil bivalves with tomatoes, garlic, and peppers. (Harissa is a fiery hot sauce.) These black-shelled beauties were plump, zingy, and tender with lots of broth at the bottom of the pot for dipping. Note: Bread and butter are $3 extra.
Which brings me to other extra charges. The Corner is conveniently located within steps of the well-stocked The Wine Source, so you can pick up supplies. At the restaurant, there is a $3 corkage fee per full-size bottle of wine, plus $1 a person. It also prefers that you pay your bill with cash. You can use credit cards, but there is a $2 "convenience" fee.
Now that the money stuff is out of the way, let me tell you about our other appetizers. Both were among the specials offered that night—which is where the chef and his sous chef Zeke Altenbernd seem to get extra creative. Don't overlook the regular starters, though. They're worth consideration: pork loin salad, escargots and wild mushrooms, tomato shrimp cocktail, and seafood pasta, for example.
We opted for the sea scallops—two sweet rounds, which were seared and nestled on risotto with a goat-cheese-cream sauce laced with flecks of black caviar the size of mini polka dots. We also had a square of heavenly foie gras, whose savory richness was a captivating foil to tart brandied cherries and a smooth chocolate sauce.
In addition to the kangaroo entree, we also had the crispy salmon—a moist, pale-pink fillet lightly crusted with potato—with a lobster-potato mash and a succulent flambéed steak, finished off with Jeremiah Weed whiskey, with bacon Brussels sprouts and potato croquettes.
The Corner, which also serves weekend brunch, offers its handmade waffles for dessert, too. The crisp honeycomb-patterned treat provides an excellent base for assorted berries and fresh whipped cream.
We also savored a chocolate terrine, divided into two thin wedges and drizzled with raspberry sauce, and a chocolate hazelnut parfait with hazelnut ice cream, a dark chocolate sauce, and more of that airy whipped cream.
Admittedly, we were full by the end of the evening. Still, we're sorry we weren't able to sample the roasted beef marrow, shad with shad roe, and sweetbreads that chef Dehaene was also serving that night. But we have no doubt that the next time we return, there will be other intriguing dishes on the menu.
That is, if we can get a seat. The restaurant wasn't accepting reservations at the time. But that policy could change, we were told. We hope it does. We have a feeling that once word gets out about this amazing little place, scoring a table might be difficult.
850 W. 36th St.
Hours: From 5 p.m. Wed.-Sun., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat. and Sun. brunch.
Appetizers: $7-10; entrees: $17-26; desserts: $6-9.
The restaurant is BYOB, wasn't taking reservations at the time, and accepts credit cards with a $2 convenience fee.
STYLE: The former diner has been updated into a charming dining room.
CUISINE: Continental with New American ingredients and some Belgian influences.
YOU'LL FIND: Exotic meats like kangaroo and yak are offered as specials.