Sophisticated fare Pierpoint's specialty

MATTERS OF TASTE

December 26, 1991|By Mary Maushard

On the same night that John Waters dined at Pierpoint, one of the specials was Tuna Noodle Casserole. Both turned heads.

As Waters strode out of this small restaurant after stopping to chat with the chef, there was a wave of turning heads as other diners recognized the filmmaker.

Some of those same heads undoubtedly did a double take when they saw Tuna Noodle Casserole on the menu. Mine did.

I swore off the stuff in college, where stringy tuna and glue-like macaroni were a Friday staple. But here I was in this sophisticated Fells Point restaurant actually considering eating tuna noodle casserole.

Perhaps it was the character of this charming restaurant that even let me think twice about it.

The atmosphere is sophisticated in a ''new Baltimore'' kind of way. The dining area is just two narrow rooms deep with the first room occupied by the bar and a few tables. The aisles are thin; the decor spare; the colors muted; the tables almost too close together.

The interest comes from the many-paned front windows that offer a view of Aliceanna Street and from the kitchen, one step above and partly exposed to the dining room.

The lean decor only serves to emphasize the food, which is sophisticated, but traditional, rooted in Maryland's rich culinary traditions. The presentations are rich, the flavors true and compelling.

When I saw Pierpoint's menu, I was glad we had brought company. Almost everything sounded good to me.

We began with two appetizers -- Eggplant Layer Cake ($4.95) and Tapenade ($6.50) -- and two salads -- Mixed Lettuce ($2.95) and Mediterranean ($8.50).

The eggplant was a luscious, unusual dish featuring breaded and fried eggplant mingled with onions, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. I'd go back for more.

The Tapenade was poached tuna on a bed of romaine with olives and capers. The accompanying bread that fanned out into the plate was almost too hard to eat but the tuna was delicious.

The salads were fresh and beautiful, especially the Mediterranean, which clearly could have been a meal. Cucumbers, olives, tomatoes unusually flavorful for late fall and feta topped the lettuce. It was all served with a thick ranch dressing.

The four of us also shared a specialty bread, Renza's Flats ($6), a round pizza-like creation made, the menu said, of ''potato and herb dough'' and topped with cheese and tomatoes. It was rich and chewy, a nice accompaniment to the small salad.

When it came to the entrees. I couldn't pass it up -- I had to see what this Tuna Noodle Casserole ($16.50) was all about. Well, ''tuna hot dish'' it was not. This was a thick chunk of grilled fresh tuna served with an upscale macaroni and cheese and a brightly colored medley of vegetables: squash, mushrooms, carrots, peppers and onions.

The tuna was moist, though I found the smoked flavor almost too strong. The macaroni was long and fluted and the cheese extremely mild. Altogether it was an unusual, but tasty, plateful that cooks of the '50s probably wouldn't have approved of.

Elsewhere at the table, we had Ribeye Steak with Shiitake Mushrooms ($17), Maryland-Style Cioppino ($17.50) and Crab Cakes ($17.95). All were served on oversize white dishes that emphasized the food.

The large thin steak had been seared, but was tough. It was served with rich -- very rich -- mashed potatoes and the vegetable medley.

The cioppino, typically a West Coast specialty, featured clams, shrimp and scallops in a wonderful tomato sauce.

The crab cakes were an adventure. My friend ordered them ''smoked,'' but discovered at first bite that he didn't like smoked crab cakes. Our alert waitress must have overheard for, in a second, she was offering to ''exchange'' them for traditionally prepared crab cakes. We took her up on the offer. Much better, he said. Wonderful, he said. No filler, he said. Just lots of beautifully seasoned crab. We all agreed.

When we heard the stunning list of homemade desserts, we were sorry we had already eaten so well. There were at least a half-dozen delicacies, plus homemade sorbet and cinnamon ice cream with sauteed apples.

We went for two: White Chocolate Cheesecake ($5) and Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce ($5). Both were luscious. These were high-quality desserts worth spending calories on, but even given the quality, I found their prices a bit high.

Our service was prompt and professional, though I thought our waitress a little brusque at first. Perhaps the Saturday night crowd had made her seem rushed.

This is a small, obviously popular restaurant. We had to wait about 15 minutes for our table, with reservations. Waiting is a little uncomfortable at Pierpoint; we found ourselves bumping into the tables near the door.

Our four meals, with a round of cocktails, a bottle of wine, three coffees ($1) and one cappuccino ($2.25) was just over $150. Pierpoint is obviously not somewhere most people can dine every day, but then, this isn't every day dining.

*** Pierpoint

1822 Aliceanna St.

675-2080

Hours: Lunch served 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturday; dinner served 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.

Reservations: Recommended.

Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.

Handicapped access: Not accessible.

Smoking: No separate areas designated.

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