It seemed like a good idea: Expand the bar business at Scape, the elegant flagship on Maryland Plaza, by converting its adjacent sister restaurant, Crepes, Etc., into an on-trend cocktail bar and small plates spot. A breakfast and lunch place, after all, just doesn't generate the same kind of profit margin as an alcohol-centric spot, and Scape didn't have a large enough bar for the sort of crowd required to make it a scene.
Scapegoat would be a casual version of Scape, the thinking went — a standalone bar in its own right or a place for a pre-dinner cocktail before heading next door for a meal. And if that cocktail turned into another, and then an appetizer and then scrapping dinner plans altogether, well, that was fine too.
After closing Crepes, Etc. this past February, Maryland Plaza Restaurant Group did seemingly all of the right things. They enlisted the acclaimed firm Space Architecture + Design to give the place a minimalist black and white color palette with a large bar, a few marble tables and a row of leather banquette seating. They called upon Scape's bar manager to concoct a fun cocktail menu that plays upon the scapegoat theme ("Ms. O'Leary's Cow," anyone?) and, most importantly, they opened up access to Scape's stunning back patio with a seamless flow between the two concepts.
So who is to blame, then, for the fact that the place was completely empty at 9:30 on a Friday night?
When I walked into the bar at roughly 7:45 p.m., I assumed everyone was out back. The Central West End is bustling these days, with more crowds than it can handle, and Scapegoat's courtyard is arguably the most beautiful outdoor dining space in town — a massive patio taking up what seems like an entire city block with a multi-storied ivy-covered wall as the backdrop. Roman style columns, chic furniture and a massive stone bar make you feel like you're in Italy. On a humid yet not too hot night, surely that's where everyone was.
It was nearly empty too. A handful of tables (out of a seating space for roughly 100) were having dinner on the Scape side, yet no one was at Scapegoat. It was curious, if not downright inexplicable, until the server presented me with a menu that seemed, well, empty too. Then it began to make sense — Scapegoat is a beautiful outline; it just hasn't been filled in.
That courtyard is drop-dead gorgeous, but it's not a place you'd pick for just sliders and wings. The space begs for a refinement that seems wasted on a tiny selection of bar food. Sitting in such a lovely space, you want something more, and Scapegoat simply doesn't have that to give, at least not on the food side.
The current menu deviates curiously from the elevated concept Maryland Plaza Restaurant Group announced when they closed Crepes, Etc. several months ago. Modern, gastropub fare, created by Scape's chef Shimon Diamond, was to be the order of the day. But somehow, that idea gave way to a small appetizer menu that's about as interesting as talking to the faux Roman columns. Perhaps more is coming, but if they simply changed their idea, it's a shell of what was expected — and what is necessary if the place wants to succeed at becoming a destination. The endeavor reads as if Scape decided to get in on the more casual way of dining that's increasingly displacing its sister restaurant's white tableclothed formality, yet eschewed the exciting food that's driving the trend in favor of a tiny menu of basic bar food.
In Diamond's defense — as well as his sous chef Eric Garcia's — defense, the food was fine enough. "E's Tacos," a take on traditional street tacos that "change with the chef's mood," were stuffed with succulent carnitas and crowned with a fiery salsa that played well against the meat's natural sweetness. Chef wasn't in the mood to warm the tortillas, which would have elevated the dish, but this was a solid bar offering nonetheless.
Though the national food press says it's passé, I'm still a sucker for burrata. How could you not be? The luscious, cream-filled mozzarella cheese gives elegance to everything it graces, including Scapegoat's otherwise mediocre peach and burrata flatbread. The idea sounds wonderful — fresh peaches, balsamic glaze, arugula pesto — but the pesto takes over and makes all other flavors irrelevant. The pesto is good enough; it just makes the plate one-dimensional.
Frenched chicken wings are not just a gimmick here. Removing the excess gristle and skin around the thin part of the drummy not only makes them supremely easy to eat, it also leaves only the succulent part of the wing to enjoy. The nub of meat at the end is like a chicken lollipop and pops right off like a boneless wing. Simple Buffalo sauce and some pungent blue cheese complete this perfect — though, at $14, expensive — finger food.
If you can't make it to the bar but want to know what Scapegoat's chopped salad is like, go to the grocery store, get a bag of shredded coleslaw mix, throw in some deli salami and eat it undressed — it's basically the same thing. A few banana peppers and alleged chickpeas (I didn't see one) did little to help this quizzical salad.
Maybe more dressing would have made it better; it certainly helped the avocado egg rolls. On their own, the crispy wonton skins, stuffed with avocado and sundried tomatoes, had little taste. Piquant green tamarind dipping sauce, however, was so pleasant it turned the eggrolls into the perfect sauce scoop. This alone made the dish.
Scapegoat's sole sandwich option is a well-executed, traditional pastrami melt. Tender, peppery meat, mouth-puckering sauerkraut, gruyere cheese and Russian dressing are piled upon griddled marble rye bread. The accompanying side of housemade chips tasted oddly of buttercream — not that I am complaining. It was just a little strange.
The restaurant's namesake dish, the "G.O.A.T." sliders, an acronym for "Greatest of All Time," are a play on Scape's macadamia-crusted chicken entrée. At Scapegoat, they are served as miniature sandwiches with melted pepper jack cheese and "secret sauce" (shh, it's honey mustard) on Hawaiian rolls. The sweet bread, which could double as a doughnut, plays well off the island-style macadamia theme. If I came in for this, as well as one of the well-balanced cocktails, I'd be happy.
Though I wouldn't be happy enough to make this my go-to spot, at least not in its current form. And that's sad, because Scapegoat has an outline that bespeaks a lovely, gastropub-style concept that could anchor this side of Maryland Avenue. It just hasn't been filled in — and what's missing is more than the customers.
- MABEL SUEN
- The striking interior remodel was led by Space Architecture + Design.