The view from Michael's Riviera Grill is soothingly spectacular. Some would say the Inner Harbor, a block away and many stories below, never looked better, as noiseless crowds stream along its sidewalks and boats of all sizes float through the early evening shadows.
From atop the Brookshire Hotel, at Calvert and Lombard streets, even the traffic is quiet; it takes an ambulance to mar the serenity.
And it takes superb food to top this view. That is exactly what we enjoyed there recently -- high quality food, carefully prepared. No, beautifully prepared. The presentation was terrific; the flavors true and exciting. Even the bread was homemade.
The menu at the Riviera Grill is called Mediterranean, offering a sampling of French, Italian and Spanish specialties and some that defy classification. The menu is not extensive, but the variety is enticing.
We pondered our choices carefully as we enjoyed cocktails and drank in the view.
I began with Grilled Red and Yellow Bell Peppers ($6.75) and my husband chose Onion Soup Riviera ($4.50). Both were unusual and delicious.
The pepper wedges, large and colorful, were lightly grilled and served over a thin layer of just-gooey Parmesan and mozzarella. The olive oil marinade still coated the peppers, but was not a bit greasy.
Although the flavor of the onion soup strayed from more traditional French renditions, the cheese and bread topping did not. Thick with tomatoes and large pieces of onion, the soup tasted of both in a warmly inviting way. (It almost made me wish for a cold night to come in from.)
Whether the small pieces of delicious bread -- crunchy outside, soft in -- complemented our first courses or vice versa is difficult -- to say. But we certainly found the bread delightful and a welcome change from the mediocre fare served in many restaurants.
My husband had a House Salad ($4.75) of fresh romaine that was nicely dressed with a lemon vinaigrette.
For entrees, we had a special, Grilled Mahi Mahi ($18.75), and Chicken Carciofi ($16). Again, we were primed by the beautiful presentation, but not wrongly. The tastes excelled.
The dark grill marks were handsome against the white Mahi Mahi and the salsa, which draped one edge of it, was perfect -- rich and spicy with a deep flavor that lingered. The fish was perfectly tender and flavorful by itself; the salsa a delicious addition.
The citron and jalapeno pepper butter served on the side was, however, unnecessary. It wasn't as tangy as the salsa nor nearly as enticing.One taste was enough.
My husband's grilled chicken breast was topped with artichoke hearts and fontina cheese and served with a cream Marsala sauce. The chicken, cheese and artichokes would probably have been outstanding without further addition, but the rich, reduced sauce, which our waiter said had been simmering for hours, made the dish spectacular.
With our dinners we were served boiled potatoes and snow peas with peppers. These were served plain and just right.
By now the sun had set and candles were twinkling around the restaurant, which, in the middle of a holiday weekend, was nearly empty. Our gracious waiter continued, however, as if the night were young and the house full. He seemed in no hurry.
We ordered coffee ($1.50) and surveyed the dessert tray. My husband chose a Blueberry Cheesecake ($4.75) that was served with blueberry sauce. It was delicious with blueberries blended into the dense cheese.
In an effort to rescue the day's calorie count, I ordered mixed blueberries and raspberries, but was foiled when the fruit came with whipped cream above and below the berries. I was surprised, too, at the $6.75 price tag when the bill arrived. It was certainly worth the calories, if not the money.
Our waiter was equal to the view and the food. He was enthusiasticand friendly without seeming insincere, and he made great martini, said my husband. He told us, late in the evening, that he had been running room service for hotel guests when not serving in the dining room; this made the well-timed meal even more laudable.
Our bill, with two cocktails and two glasses of wine, was just under $84. Although I thought a couple of the dishes overpriced, the tab was not exorbitant for such a fine meal.
It's only fair to say that not all tables in the window-lined dining room have an equal view; some must overlook nearby office buildings. But even without a window on the water, the Riviera Grill is an outstanding place to dine.
Michael's Riviera Grill
120 E. Lombard St.
Hours: Breakfast: Monday-Friday, 7 to 11:30 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8-11:30 a.m.; Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 4:30-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4:30-11 p.m.; Sunday, 4:30-9 p.m.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: No separate areas, but servers separate smokers from non-smokers; cigar and pipe-smoking discouraged.