One of these hot summer evenings, consider driving out to Windows on the Bay for a gin and tonic, a plate of salmon, first-rate fries and some sliced, fresh fruit. Windows sits on a quiet arm of water off the Patapsco River called Rock Creek. The trip ends on a winding road about 8 1/2 miles from Baltimore Beltway Exit 1. From that exit, take a left onto Hawkins Point Road. Hawkins Point will become Fort Smallwood Road. After a while, a Windows sign points down Colony Road, which leads into a boat yard.
What we found was a building that was plain but not rough -- essentially a box fitted with small, square wood tables set with paper place mats. In the country-shore atmosphere, the serving staff wears flowered, Hawaiian shirts. Guests looked comfortable dressed in casual clothing, which included jeans and shorts.
Diners in the air-conditioned room looked out on an awning-shaded deck, which looked out on boats, water and houses in the woods on the opposite bank.
The menu is varied, and includes pasta, chicken, beef, veal and seafood. We began with a cup of the house seafood chowder ($1.50) and with "the ultimate sampler" of appetizers ($10.95).
The exceptionally good soup had a dense pebbling of fish chunks, sliced celery and red pepper, and an interesting, flavorful broth. On the sampler plate, what was most to our tastes were a couple of succulent, lightly Old Bay-ed shrimp, and a pretty pile of fresh vegetable straws, sliced from zucchini, carrot, summer squash and jicama (an odd vegetable that looks like a potato). I liked the golden-brown heap of floppy "shaved onion rings," too, but my two friends, both of whom scowl at oils and fats, thought them too greasy. I argued back that they were no thicker than construction paper and addictively delicious.
There were also a couple of crackly surfaced crab balls, two fingers of Cajun tenderloin, or violently spiced pork, and two oysters, both slathered with spicy tomato sauce and covered with melted cheese, which, alas, together, were too much for the delicacy of the oysters.
For entrees, we sampled stuffed veal ($14.95) and, given the importance of the water here, two fish dishes, a grilled Norwegian salmon fillet ($14.50) and a special of grilled barracuda ($14.95). Both fish were slightly overcooked by modern standards, but then, many diners want fish exactly as Windows prepares them. We were impressed by their freshness, their generous size and the pleasing simplicity with which they were prepared. Each was laid over a gloss of acid-edged butter sauce that complemented both the fish oils and a subtle touch of smokiness from the grill.
The stuffed veal, too, was light: leaves of fresh spinach lay over the scaloppine, then cheese, then thin shavings of heated prosciutto. Sauces are simple at Windows. The veal was served over an uncomplicated tomato base.
Each plate held a colorful and healthy quantity of vegetable straws, which, on entree plates, included broccoli and cauliflower in the squash mix. We also had a choice of french fries, rice pilaf or baked potato. I love almost all fresh-cut, just-fried potatoes, and love them twice over when they have their skins on, as these pencil-thin fries did. The rice, however, carried the tastes of commercial bouillon cubes, and seemed overly burdened with bits of diced vegetables.
Between our main courses and desserts, we began to yearn for a place on the deck, under the twilight sky, nearer the lights that were appearing across the water. It seemed a lot to ask, to leave our assigned places and move to an area probably part of a different waiter's station, but we asked and were granted all our wishes without hesitation -- a cooling evening, coffee (75 cents), strawberries ($3.95), a cake called tissimo ($3.50), a slice of pecan pie ($3.25) and an attendant gentle sense that the world was a hospitable place.
The strawberries tasted like local strawberries in season. They didn't have white knobs on the end; they were juicy as pears. The tissimo had a thick, delicious layer of flourless chocolate cake on the bottom, and a rather too dilute, pale cocoa, buttery mousse cream on the top. The pecan pie was the best of the three (but then restaurants are discovering it's hard to sabotage a pecan pie, thanks to the intrinsic gorgeousness of pecans and syrup). What made it much better than average was its crisp, thin crust. All three had whipped cream on top that didn't taste like real whipped cream. "No one uses real whipped cream any more," one of my companions sighed.
Well, but the water, the chowder, the fish and the berries were real. *
Windows on the Bay, 1402 Colony Road, Pasadena, 255-1413
Hours: Tuesdays to Thursdays 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays until 11 p.m., Sundays 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Accepts: ** /- *
Features: An eclectic menu
No-smoking area: No
Wheelchair access: Yes