Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
The new Pavilion restaurant at the Walters Art Gallery has taken all of these traditional June elements, added some marvelous food, and created a dining space that you will want to patronize until death do you part.
The "something old" is the spacious proportions and classical detailing of the dining room, built into what was once the back garden of the Hackerman House, now the Walters' gallery of Asian art. The "something new" is the clean white airiness of the space, and the touches of Industrial Age design in the metal trim. A bronze sculpture of a youth feeding grapes to a panther kitten has been borrowed from the Walters entrance and now tops a fountain at one end of the room, and touches of slate blue, as well as dusty rose, add warmth.
The chef is Mark Hofmann -- his name is on the menu, so they
must be proud of him -- and the operation is run by Classic Catering People. (Among the partners are Lenny and Gail Kaplan, who also run the Polo Grill, a very good sign indeed.) It's a lunch-only operation, so the menu is small and on the "lite" side, but everything we tasted showed a high level of accomplishment.
Take the lobster and corn chowder ($3.75). (No, don't take it away, please!) No thick seafood sludge this, but a thin (but drenched with lobster essence) cream, studded with pieces of lobster, sweet corn kernels, and finely diced colorful vegetables. My companion chose the calamari; good calamari are becoming ubiquitous in Baltimore, but these were special thanks to their duo of dipping sauces, a very good Maryland marinara and a superb Thai sauce with the silkiest kind of spiciness.
The Pavilion's quiche ($7.95) -- creamy, cheesy, laden with chunks of fresh salmon, and encased in an excellent crust -- could bring that definitively '70s dish back into style. A green salad dressed with vinaigrette was a bracing foil for all that richness.
Even better, and fully as attractive, were the fanned petals of charred rare tuna ($10.95), steak-like in appearance but with a fresh, sashimi flavor. They were served with a tangle of lo mein noodles and a drizzle of sesame-peanut vinaigrette, for a hint of Asian satay flavor.
The fanciest restaurant in town would be proud of the Pavilion's desserts, which arrive with spiraling poufs of whipped cream, painted creme anglaise and dustings of cinnamon. The chocolate bourbon pecan pie ($4.50) was a mixture of southern comfort and southern decadence, but the fruit cobbler ($3.25) suffered from an unhappy marriage of fruits, in this case, bananas and kiwis.
The Pavilion at the Walters
Where: 600 N. Charles St. (at rear of Hackerman House)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays.
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V.
Features: Light fare.
Non-smoking section? Entire restaurant is non-smoking.