Restaurants like Bowman are the good gray character actors, the Charles Durnings and Sada Thompsons, of the restaurant world. The stars may attract the press attention and the adulation of the designer-label crowd, but the supporting players keep plugging along, doing steady and reliable, if unflashy, work.
This kind of unglamorous existence can be a lot more rewarding than it sounds. Fame is fickle, and a star can flame out as fast as it rises, but those workhorse restaurants, like their acting counterparts, seem to go on forever.
This suburban place, just outside the Beltway, may not be a trendster's darling, but it's more than just a neighborhood joint. Bowman is attractive in a somewhat generic way -- hanging plants, posters with floral themes -- and although casual dress would certainly not be out of place, one gets the impression that this is one restaurant the locals like to dress up for, a special-occasion destination. And while the menu is largely generic, too, with reasonably priced American dishes and light fare, a few stylish specials suggest that this nice, low-key restaurant may be trying to punch up its image a bit.
We were well-pleased with our appetizers, sauteed shrimp ($5.95) and cream of crab soup ($2.50). The shrimp, sauteed with Madeira and plenty of garlic, were kin to those that are so lavishly praised at Tio Pepe; similarly, the crab meat-heavy soup had flavor to rival the fare at restaurants with higher prices and higher profiles.
Would that the marlin ($9.95), a special, had this finesse. The fish steak was heavy and chewy, and if it originally had any taste of its own, that taste was shouted down by an extremely noisy -- well, garlicky -- pesto sauce.
I can't imagine why the duo of petite filet and crab cake was called the "Poor Man" -- at $12.50, it's one of the pricier dishes on the menu -- except for the tininess of the portion, which even a light eater might find a tad chintzy. Be that as it may, the crab was fine; chunky and obviously hand-shaped, it had a moist middle and distinctive but discreet seasoning. The filet was a disappointment, though. It was rare, as requested, but on the tough side; also, a steak served without sauce should have a distinctive, well-aged taste of its own, and this steak didn't.
My companion is an onion ring connoisseur and was pleased with Bowman's, which were crunchy and golden and not too greasy, "tasty but not decadent."
Bowman also offers, hallelujah, homemade desserts. I'm partial to a moister, chunkier carrot cake than Bowman offers -- it was smoother, more like a fine-grained spice cake -- but it was large and had flavor to spare. My chocolate chiffon pie outpaced it by a mile, though -- this is one of those desserts good enough to skip dinner for. Intense mousse-like filling in a "crust" of crushed hazelnuts: That's star quality.
Where: 9306 Harford Road
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays; dinner 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Credit Cards: AE, CB, MC, V.
Features: American food, seafood, light fare.