The fare a Plata Grande isn't big on flavor

MATTERS OF TASTE RHB

June 20, 1991|By Mary Maushard

Maybe if the light over our booth had been better, the food would have tasted better. Maybe.

Maybe not.

From the moment my husband I sat down at Plata Grande, I wanted to turn the lights up. This wasn't subtle or romantic lighting, this was bad lighting that my eyes never adjusted to. I was still looking to turn the dimmer up on our way out.

Unfortunately, Plata Grande's food and service, except for a couple of bright spots, did not light up our evening either.

Good Mexican food, even good Tex-Mex food, is hard to come by in this area. And when friends knowledgeable about this fare told us they had enjoyed Plata Grande in Columbia, we decided to give it a try.

I guess they had been there on better nights, or chosen more wisely, for we found the meal largely disappointing and our hunger for south-of-the-border tastes still lingering as we drove back to Baltimore.

Part of our disappointment stemmed from the atmosphere and the perfunctory service. We were seated in a large, rather sterile and -- lest you forget -- dimly lit room. There was little color or decor; some of the furnishings seemed a bit worn.

Patience was not our waitress' strong suit; she returned so frequently while we were looking at the menu, and seemed so put upon by our delay, that we felt pressured to order.

Plata Grande's menu is extensive and we were in no hurry. Too bad our waitress was, even though the room was far from full.

The meal did, however, begin with some of the bright spots: Gazpacho ($2.25), Guacamole ($4.95) and the complimentary tortilla chips with salsa.

The soup was nicely spiced and refreshing, although served with the garnishes already in it. I've always liked picking and choosing from among the tomatoes, cucumbers and other crudites, adding a little more of this or that as I ate. One very nice touch, though, was the avocado sliced into the soup; it made the overall flavor and texture much more interesting.

The Guacamole, also with big chunks of avocado among the usual paste, was delicious and attractively served.

The kitchen must have been working in tandem with the waitress, for we had barely finished our appetizers when the entrees arrived.

My husband went Tex-Mex traditional with Quatro, a combination platter ($8.95) of a tamale, a beef taco, a cheese enchilada and chili rejenos. This would be the backbone of many Mexican restaurants, but at Plata Grande, only the taco had much flavor. The other offerings were nearly indistinguishable in taste and texture. They were accompanied by Spanish rice and refried beans that were equally bland.

In all, it was a plate of food not worth the calories.

My Red Snapper Vera Cruz ($10.95) was better. The filet, which had been cut up and sauteed, was served in a tomato sauce that had pep to it. The snapper itself was tender and the overall taste pleasing.

It was served with Spanish rice and the vegetable of the day, broccoli and carrots. Although crispy, the vegetables had little taste and the broccoli was obviously yellowing.

The still-impatient waitress brought coffee, took our dessert orders and then slowed down, an obvious result of the now-full dining room. We waited a long time for the Fried Ice Cream ($2.95) and a Mila-Hoja ($1.95), a puff pastry filled with custard and trimmed with whipped topping.

I like Fried Ice Cream and Plata Grande's did not disappoint me. The cool ice cream, dusted with cinnamon with a base of fried dough, was a nice mix of textures and tastes. The Mila-Hoja was light, as promised, and also tasty.

By this time, however, we were so put off by the service and the largely indifferent food that we just wanted to leave. We probably did not give the desserts their just desserts, as it were. We paid our tab, which was just over $49 for our dinners, two cocktails, a beer, a glass of wine and two coffees.

We were surprised that the restaurant was jammed, and people were waiting for tables as we left. Plata Grande obviously does not want for patrons, though my husband and I are hard-pressed to see the attraction.

Maybe if the light had been better. . . .

**

Plata Grande

Dobbin Center Way,

Columbia

740-5115

Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Saturday, noon-2:30 p.m.; Dinner, Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5-11 p.m., Sunday, 3-9 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Reservations: Recommended.

Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.

Handicapped access: Accessible.

Smoking: Separate areas designated

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