In the evening, an office park is the loneliest place around. There are few cars or human beings in sight, just chilly, interchangeable modern buildings with smoky glass fronts. (Are there people inside? And are they watching us?) It seemed a dubious location for a restaurant with a name as sweet and homey as "The Loveton Cafe".
The cafe looks as sleek and hard as its surroundings, with expanses of gray carpeting, gray tables without cloths, black deco chairs and restrained greenery. But the welcome was friendly, the classical music soothing, and the brief menu anything but intimidating. The emphasis is on non-trendy classics -- big-dinner-out dishes like rack of lamb, filet mignon and veal cordon bleu at surprisingly modest prices. Chef Wolfgang Wolff's dishes are as conservative and well-made as a Volvo station wagon. Just about as exciting, too, but hey, life isn't all black pasta and shiitakes.
The Maryland crab meat salad ($4.25) was a good demonstration of what this restaurant is all about. It was simply a good-sized pile of excellent lump crab, with a cup of spicy red sauce on the side. Fresh seafood was also a virtue in the shrimp bisque ($1.20); at first, this soup both looked and tasted, well, beige, but with subsequent spoonfuls its delicate taste became more and more appealing. There were plenty of shrimp chunks, too.
The salads were small and simple, with admirable, full-flavored blue cheese and creamy Dijon dressings.
One of the most tempting and least conventional entrees was the filet of sole ($11.95) with salmon mousse and basil tomato sauce. The mild-flavored white fish was wrapped around a core of solid salmon (not mousse), and was bathed in a cream sauce with a little diced tomato and the barest hint of the promised herb. Despite its nouvelle-ish name, this dish would not daunt the most timid of palates. But it was still classy enough to interest a jaded food critic.
However, the veal Francaise ($12.95) -- thinly pounded scaloppine dipped in egg batter and sauteed with lemon sauce -- was less successful. The veal was bland, and needed the foil of assertive flavors, but the shy sauce failed to foil.
The meal's big disappointment was dessert. Chef Wolff, we were told, makes his own, but the chocolate mousse cake might have come from a Pepperidge Farm package, and the soggy strudel topped with sickly-sweet custard and a peculiar-tasting strawberry could have been cafeteria fare.
Speaking of cafeterias, the cafe offers an all-you-can-eat buffet weekday evenings, as well as breakfast and lunch. Breakfast looks like a wonderful deal. How many places can you get steak and eggs for $3.25, or eggs Benedict for $2.25?
Where: The JMT Building, 72 Loveton Circle, Sparks.
Hours: Open 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; Sunday brunch noon to 3 p.m.
Credit Cards: Not accepted.
Features: American and Continental cuisine.
Non-smoking section: Yes.