Pier 500 Where: HarborView Marina and Yacht Club, 500 Harborview Drive.
Hours: Open daily for lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major credit cards.
Features: New American cuisine.
Non-smoking area: yes.
*** Popular wisdom tells us this is the worst time imaginable to opening a restaurant. With an economic downturn looming, how many of us are willing to keep spending $50 for dinner? A different set of pundits has already pronounced the death of nouvelle cuisine; these days, sophisticated Americans supposedly shun the chevre and chow down on pot roast and hash browns.
So here comes Connie Crabtree with a stylish new restaurant and a menu filled with such high-priced delights as "Oolong tea-smoked duck with apricot coulis and coriander pancakes" and "sauteed redfish filet with hot pecan praline and double lemon sauce."
Wrong time? Maybe. But right place? Indubitably. Pier 500 has set up shop in the new HarborView Marina, on the Inner Harbor's soon-to-be-developed south side. The location has plenty of waterfront glamour while being quietly removed from the Harborplace hustle which is, at Christmastime at least, not exactly good for the digestion.
Ms. Crabtree's food, on the other hand, is. A pleasure to the taste buds, too. And elegantly pretty as well, unfashionable as that might be in these recession-ready times.
If the wild mushroom brulee on spinach genoise ($4.75) was a bit less extravagant than anticipated, this was only because most of the mushrooms seemed to be the usual Kennett Square variety. The genoise, a light spinach sponge, was a delicate foil to what might otherwise be too rich for all but the most decadent tastes. No one could possibly quibble with the tea-smoked duck ($5.75), though; its subtle smokiness was set off beautifully by the crepe-thin pancakes and sweet-tart coulis, and it was composed on the plate with painterly panache.
The beef tenderloin medallions ($20) fairly melted in the mouth, and their accompanying souffle had a bigger flavor than would seem possible in anything this airy and insubstantial. I could have done with a bit less Pernod on the oysters that stuffed the beef, though. They tasted like oversized licorice after-dinner mints.
Think nothing new can be done to a crab cake ($15.95)? Don't underestimate Connie Crabtree, who adds a lively kick to hers with lime and hot chilis. The creamy-centered crab cakes had plenty of pimento -- not a candidate for my culinary heaven, but they wowed my companion.
The desserts aren't made by Ms. Crabtree, according to our funny, irreverent waiter, but are created especially for the restaurant. And they're lovely. The lemon pudding souffle was especially welcome; chocolate killer cakes are great, but after a real luxury meal, something light makes the sweetest memories.