Review: Fresh Meat – Despite a familiar format, Baldamar is sizzling with new life

The bar at Baldamar // Photo by Garrett Born

Baldamar is a steakhouse at a mall. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of this review.

Despite its aggressive Instagram influencer-courting and its 9th Level Gnome Illusionist-sounding name, Baldamar is both fully contemporary and as square as can be, down to its Restoration Hardware-meets-Delta Sky Club interior.

And yet: There’s a big, lovely spark of life burning away at Baldamar, casting a bright light and providing quite a bit of warmth.

That spark begins in the kitchen, which turns out a big, brassy, beautifully consistent menu. It continues into the dining room, where fresh young servers are aggressively working to figure out what it means to tactfully sling $70 filets with optional $30 king crab “bling” in this modern world.

The result is a place that feels both fully grounded in luxe steakhouse tradition while sparkling with freshness. That one-two punch doesn’t have too many analogues around town—Burch, certainly, and P.S. Steak, but not much else.

And like those two comparable spots, a visit to Baldamar is A LOT—it’s busy, it’s expensive, it’s overwhelming, it’s massively caloric—but it’s a great deal of fun, too. Much of its success can be traced back to owner Randy Stanley, whose background as part-owner at 6Smith (and before that, general manager at Manny’s) directly informs many of the decisions that define Baldamar.

Baldamar’s entrance into their new Roseville based steakhouse // Photo by Garrett Born

You can’t talk about restaurants without talking about service, and that goes double for steakhouses. Baldamar’s service program is still clearly young and finding its feet, but it’s not without its charms and powers.

On the positive side of things: skillful wine service (a good menu that we were thoughtfully guided through, with our tastes dictating the journey.) At the end of our second meal, the cheerfully generous proclamation that “the table is yours for the evening, feel free to linger and enjoy.” And throughout our second meal, a playful-without-overstepping mood that wouldn’t be out of place at Manny’s, which may have the most polished steakhouse service program in the state. 

On the negative side of the ledger: a pre-arrival phone reminder of our reservation that was redundant with a second, texted pre-arrival phone reminder of our reservation. A server (on our first visit) who took a stab at getting us to order “one of each” of the oysters on offer without any explanation of pricing, and twice managed to get us to upgrade our entrees without mentioning the upcharges. A host stand that, on our arrival for our second dinner, was packed with a confusing cluster of around five different people, all of whom greeted us with varying degrees of commitment. 

A great steakhouse isn’t built overnight, however, and there’s every indication that Baldamar is on the right track. Where service went wrong, it wasn’t terribly jarring, and where service went right, it greatly enhanced the pleasure of our meal. And the restaurant’s employment of numerous younger (and female) servers is a noteworthy shift from the middle-aged dude-centric approach typical at most old-school competitors. 

And the food? Well, there’s a lot of it, and it comes in big portions. Brace your waistlines for impact. 

40 day dry aged Prime Rib Eye at Baldamar // Photo by Garrett Born

Let’s get the steak out of the way immediately. At $50, the 18-ounce Prime Rib Eye is assertively priced, but it’s worth every cent. The seasoning and char on the 40 days dry-aged meat were delectable, the texture of the meat was tender without being characterless, it was ordered medium-rare and delivered medium-rare, and the flavor was big, full, and richly gorgeous. It would be a struggle to find a better steak than this in the metro, which is to say the entire state.

Less sensational but still pleasingly rendered was the Hanger Steak Chimichurri ($32) served on a toasted baguette. The steak was as tender as you’d hope without giving up the fight, and the chimichurri was surprisingly quiet, which gave the meat’s rich flavor a chance to represent itself (and soak into the nicely charred bread that carried it like a chariot.)

Baldamar’s Calamari // Photo by Garrett Born

We felt obligated to order the Calamari ($14) for two reasons: one, it was at the top of the Appetizers & Small Plates menu, an implicit vote of confidence. And two, when is the last time anyone ordered calamari? 2007, maybe? What’s this Social Security-collecting dinosaur doing hanging around a modern steakhouse menu?

Turns out it’s ruling, that’s what it’s doing. The squid was tender and beautifully crispy within its batter coating, and it came with a surprisingly fresh and bold Southeast Asian-inflected carrot, cilantro, and Fresno pepper slaw that was an ideal complement.

Tamarind-Braised Short Rib with Pickled Mango Salad // Photo by Garrett Born

In theory, the Apple Cider-Braised Pork Shank with Yukon gold potato puree ($30) is a very different dish from the Tamarind-Braised Short Rib with pickled mango salad ($34), but in practice, both of these dishes bring essentially the same thing to the table: A big, rich mass of appealingly vulnerable pork with a kicky fruit-powered brightness to it. The choice here really comes down to one of sides, and both the potato puree and the mango salad were competently made and pleasant.

Baldamar’s Cast-Iron Seared Jumbo Scallops ($38) were beautifully prepared and thoughtfully presented. But $38 for four scallops plus gluey and underwhelming potato gnocchi, even in a luxury steakhouse environment, is beyond the pale. Will the market bear this kind of pricing? Very possibly. But to anyone who has a) shopped at a seafood store and b) can competently prepare a scallop at home, the mark-up will feel excruciating. On the other hand, this might be some kind of karmic justice for people who order scallops, which are, generally speaking, a lazy person’s idea of seafood.

We knew our Venison & Kobe “Juicy Lucy” was going to be something of a wild ride based on its many components (premium meat, smoked gouda, jalapeño, oyster mushrooms, a pretzel roll, etc.) and swaggering $20 price tag. While cheese-stuffed in theory (our burger had a classic jucy blowout, where the cheese leaked out in cooking and/or was fully absorbed by the meat) this was miles closer to a typical steakhouse baseball-shaped everything burger. To its credit: it went big on jalapeño heat, which helped cut through all the fatty richness of the gouda, bacon, and caramelized onions. Eating through the burger-generated field of wreckage was an Experience, and not a bad one.

For an unannounced $2 upcharge, we were able to replace the fries/coleslaw/side salad option attached to our burger with a cup of clam chowder soup. I love this soup with an abiding passion and have eaten variations of it all up and down the East Coast, from Washington D.C. up to Bar Harbor, Maine, with a special emphasis on Boston and Cambridge. Baldamar’s skin-on potato-focused version of clam chowder easily ranks in my lifetime top five—it was truly rich and creamy without being monotonous, and as much about the beautiful earthy taste of the potatoes as the mild seafood note supplied by the clams.

Char Grilled Street Corn // Photo by Garrett Born

Speaking of minor undisclosed upcharges that are ultimately worth it, it cost an extra $2 to get our Char Grilled Street Corn ($11) with tortilla chips, which seemed a little steep. And yet: the chips were house-made and impeccable, and absolutely critical for this dish, which is billed as “elote style” but lacks the lightness and lime-kissed zest of elote and instead veers into an incredibly rich, unctuous, queso fundido sort of territory. There’s very little “street” about this dish, but it is what it is, which is addictively indulgent.

Anchored by the same crunchy, substantial, wholesome chips that make the elote/fundido thing so good, the Short Rib and Chorizo Nachos ($16) are some of the tastiest nachos that have crossed our palates in recent memory. Sharp cheddar, pickled onion, and a legitimately spicy cilantro crema combine to create all those lovely layers and pockets of flavor, and the meat that generously tops these chips is substantial without being hard to manage. 

The Twice Baked Potato ($10) lacks some of the “blasted by the broiler and toughened into delicious leather” appeal that the home version of the dish typically offers, but as a loaded potato it performed just fine. Wisconsin cheddar and bacon held their own against a generous dollop of sour cream and a light sprinkling of chopped scallions.

Our small, romaine-based Caesar Salad ($9) was just the right accessory for two bombastic slabs of meat—like any great Caesar, it balanced tangy lightness with earthy depth to create a multidimensional salad that looks simple on the plate and plays out with real complexity on the palate. I wish that there was more to write about this salad, because it so adeptly filled its niche in the menu, but there you have it: a simple Caesar, done with class and grace, is hard to top.

The Candy Cane Cheesecake ($15) didn’t outlive the holiday season, but in its prime, it certainly made sense: a tall, fluffy, competently crafted piece of cheesecake on a graham cracker crust with a sprinkling of crushed candy canes on top, supplying a bit of gritty minty contrast to the creaminess of the cake. Is $15 too much for a single dessert, even one that’s fairly large and eminently sharable? Eh, welcome to steakhouse pricing.

A spiced cherry chocolate cheesecake ($15)—also a limited run for the holidays—didn’t quite live up to its candy cane-spiked brother—although the cherries were indeed strongly (and admirably) kicked up with warming spices, the cake itself was both a bit too sour and too restrained to make for a perfect nightcap. A swing and a miss, although by a close margin.

The Double Rye Sazerac // Photo by Garrett Born

On the drinks side of things, Baldamar’s cocktail menu is helpfully sorted by base spirit and old- versus new-school drinks. The High West Double Rye-based Sazerac ($13) knocked us on our butts in a really, really good way—it was big, beautifully built, and balanced. And our Old Fashioned ($13) was an example of the way they should be built—and not, most crucially, syrupy sweet. Everything else we drank was between adequate and excellent, with the refreshing tequila-based Wind Cries Mary ($13) a particular highlight. 

Still, as we pulled our chairs away from the table after our second meal at Baldmar, we all agreed that we’d likely return. This is a spot with palpable ambition, culinary passion, and a sense of focus that may, over time, create one of the metro’s premiere finer dining destinations.

And, hey, the mall’s right there in the unlikely case that you’re hungry for a biscuit after dinner.

Baldamar located at the edge of the Rosedale Center // Photo by Garrett Born

Baldamar, 1642 County Road B2 West at Rosedale Center, Roseville, MN 55113, 651-796-0040