Restaurant News & Reviews

Pricey Bakers 360 shows promise all around

Bakers 360 spans the entire 15th floor of the Chase Bank building downtown. Its dark and unforgiving paint job might border on heavy without the benefit of the panoramic windows from which it gets its name. The expanse accommodates a restaurant, two shiny bars, a dance floor, a nightclub and a couple of exclusive event rooms. Meetings here must be relaxing, and hitting the dance floor on a Friday or Saturday night is probably good fun.

But for diners, my target audience, to most comfortably appreciate the concept, sit in a booth by a window. (The banquettes and their accompanying stools leave the feet dangling like you're in a high chair, and the view from the tables is obscured.) These window seats are doled out first come, first serve by reservation, and they don't seem as easy to score as one might think.

On a clear day or a twinkling night, the view alone justifies a visit to Bakers 360. These advantageous spots commit you to eating, however, which can be a mixed and potentially expensive bag. Like everywhere else in the universe, however, a midday meal reduces the tab significantly — to about $20 for two.

The lunch menu doesn't say this, so be prepared: The chef's choice ravioli ($8), whose filling changes often, might be deep-fried on the day you order it. On the day I visited, it was. It was also stuffed with pulled pork. I hate myself for having liked this crunchy finger food.

The "petite" spinach salad ($4) was large enough to share but needed a more generous toss of bacon-bourbon vinaigrette. The chocolate almond cheesecake ($7), also plenty for two, was like a Moon Pie, only with an excellent ganache, fluffy almond-flavored cheese filling and chocolate cake. OK, so I guess the only resemblance was the chocolate covering.

Another budget-friendly route is to order sushi.

The Baker's Roll ($16) is a must-try. The rice was slightly sweet, the avocado at ideal ripeness (why bother otherwise?) and each gentle drape of salmon and tuna was ocean-fresh. The dramatic plate was splattered, lined and squiggled with green- and burnt orange-colored mayonnaise, spiked respectively with wasabi and harissa (spicy North African chili paste). The roll itself was wrapped in baby-pink soy paper, then sprinkled with delicate fish roe that were black, orange and chartreuse. Sheer artistry.

This would easily feed two people with normal appetites. You could add the hot noodle salad ($4) with bits of Napa cabbage, shiitake and carrots, but it's more pasta than vegetables. The sushi bar offers seaweed salad for $4.50, but the sushi chef told me it's not made in-house.

A major emphasis at Bakers 360 is given to meat. Steak is done exceptionally well, albeit at prices of $30 to $39 for large portions on a menu that is entirely a la carte. Toppings, like béarnaise ($3) or Alaskan king crab ($7), are extra — which seems ridiculous. A two-course dinner with one glass of wine and sides was about $80, but exuberant ordering could add up to a lot more.

I love that the "house bread" is a hot baguette from Sunrise Bakery. What better way to begin a meal? By comparison, the black bean griddle cakes ($6), three plump little discs of lightly seasoned ground and whole black beans, topped with a dollop of mild guacamole, seemed greasy and ordinary.

The small filet mignon ($30 for 9 ounces) was perfectly cooked to medium rare — deep pink in the middle and tender as butter. It melted in my mouth, far and away the best steak I have had in a Lexington restaurant.

And kudos go to whoever selected the Napa Newton claret as a "by the glass" wine for $10. It goes beautifully with beef.

Equally well executed was the juicy half-chicken ($19), served simply with a light demi-glace and chopped parsley. The skin was crisp, salty and deep brown. I could have finished the whole bird. Only conscience of some sort stopped me.

Two accompaniments were intended to bring some green to the plate. The blistered roasted asparagus ($7) succeeded and went beyond, with the richness of toasted hazelnuts and saltiness of paper-thin ham slices. But I was disappointed in the creamed spinach ($6). Rather than a bright purée lightly tempered with cream sauce, the spinach was overwhelmed by the white sauce. Not very pretty and not to the point.

Bakers 360 has an ambitious plan with many facets. The place is doing some things quite right, yet as a whole, it feels like a work in progress. With a little more critical thinking and attention to detail, in both ambience and menu, it could earn the bragging rights that come with the view.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader