Huge steaks and finesse,too

October 12, 1990|By Lynn Williams | Lynn Williams,Sun Restaurant Critic

The Baltimore Grille Where: Omni Inner Harbor Hotel, 101 W. Fayette St.

Hours: Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Fridays; dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Credit Cards: All major credit cards.

Features: Steaks, chops, seafood.

ll: 385-6601. The Baltimore Grille, some people might say, fills a much-needed void in Baltimore's dining scene. In other words, is this restaurant really necessary?

"Baltimore needs a great steakhouse," spokesmen for the newly renovated Omni Hotel maintain. But Baltimore has a great steakhouse. It's called the Prime Rib. And in any case, does anyone really eat 24-ounce hunks of steer anymore?

Well, sure. Even though those meat-and-potatoes men may be watching their saturated fats and cholesterol when they dine at home, the Omni folks found that when they dine out, they want to indulge themselves. Which means, for many, good wines, huge, blood-rare steaks and Maine lobsters that tip the scales at 2 pounds or more. The new Grille provides all these, baiting the hook with a health angle; grilling, after all, is one of the healthier methods of cooking, and diners can choose their own sauces, which are served on the side.

The room has a dressy, masculine sensuousness -- not as sensuous as the Prime Rib, but what is? -- with cushy, inviting banquettes and lots of red, the color of light shining through a glass of Burgundy. The dinnerware is made of weighty pewter and bottles glitter behind glass. There is an open kitchen, though, which trendy restaurateurs seem to think looks classy; they've always reminded me of greasy-griddle lunch counters.

The menu is a fairly conservative mix of old and new American; Black Angus beef for the trenchermen, and the likes of red snapper stuffed with asparagus mousse for those whose tastes run to Continental finesse. That old-line luxe specialty, Oysters Rockefeller ($6.95) -- you feel rich just eating them -- were nice but not stellar. The smallish oysters were juicy, but the blandness of the spinach mixture made lemon juice a necessity. Carpaccio ($6.25) was delicious, and beautifully presented with a fan of grilled bread, fresh basil leaves and piquant three-bean relish. The raw beef didn't have the promised paper-thinness, though, and the beans were indigestibly crunchy.

Neither of us was in the mood for a slab of steak, but we still got to sample one of the restaurant's most intriguing drawing cards, its condiment cart. My tender trio of beef, lamb and veal medallions (served with an eggy little lump crab souffle) and my companion's grilled duck both arrived with their own dark sauces, the former a reduction of pan juices spiked with Cabernet Sauvignon, the latter flavored with red peppercorns. Both sauces, sampled straight, were overly salty. But when the waiter came by with a cart laden with two dozen sauces, butters and savory side dishes, we cheered up. Most were just wonderful: The wild mushroom butter had a strong, sexy presence; the bearnaise was both rich and zingy; and an Oriental plum sauce with ginger beautifully accented the sweet subtlety of the duck.

The Baltimore Grille has its own pastry chef, whose creations appeal to several senses at once. The fudgy chocolate torte with chopped walnut topping, served with raspberry puree, was scrumptious. "This is girl food," observed my companion about his strawberry layer cake with white chocolate icing. He had a point -- the cake was baby-fine, its flavors as exquisitely delicate as a white lace christening gown.

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