Whether crab cakes or Thai satay, Roland Park Cafe does it right

December 27, 1991|By Lynn Williams | Lynn Williams,Sun Restaurant Critic

Roland Park Cafe

Where: 413 W. Cold Spring Lane.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays,

11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Credit Cards: MC, V.

Features: American and international dishes, light fare.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (410) 889-2233.

*** The Roland Park Cafe hasn't been with us long. But it feels like forever. From its old-fashioned decor to the excellent crab cakes to the waitress who called us "sweetie," this friendly little restaurant and carry-out already has the feel of a Baltimore tradition. It's not exactly the kind of place to which the in-crowd will rush en masse, but when they do show up, they will find it refreshingly free of pretense and attitude.

The cafe is located on the former site of another old-line culinary landmark, Fiske's Cafe, in one of the nicest small deco buildings our city has to offer. Chandeliers dangle from the high ceilings, and the walls are lined with academic-style paintings, of varying quality. (We were mesmerized by a portrait of a grinning woman with a Farrah hairdo and a bird sitting on her head.) There's something of Fiske's white-gloves gentility here, but the food is, luckily for us, not white-bread.

Diners with conservative palates can, indeed, find shrimp salad and other ladies-lunch favorites. But the menu is surprisingly varied, and includes burgers, Italian food, and the likes of steak au poivre and Cornish game hen. And, because co-owner Iam McKechnie is from Thailand, you can begin your meal with well-spiced Thai appetizers.

In fact, we found the chicken satay skewers ($5.95) more robustly spiced that the satays you find in most Thai restaurants, with a pleasant curry bite. The peanut dipping sauce was smooth and sweet, and a side dish of sliced cucumbers in vinaigrette added a tangy counterpoint.

Although the satay was generous, we were really astounded by the mousse truffle pate ($4.95). Such luxury usually comes in tiny portions for nibbling and savoring, but we were presented with three big slabs; our arteries may have protested, but at this price, such richly-flavored creamy decadence -- and the discernible taste of truffle! -- seemed the stuff of miracles.

The crab cakes ($16.95 for two cakes, the menu's top-priced item) were made of chunky lump crab. We crab-cake purists admired the lack of filler and intrusive spicing; all these cakes needed was a touch of lemon, which was supplied, to bring out their sweet, crabby flavor.

Although the dish was as simple as could be, excellent pasta set the linguine marinara ($5.95) apart. The noodles tasted fresher and more delicate -- almost like Asian pad thai noodles -- than the garden-variety Italian version. This bargain dish was served with garlic bread and a salad whose lumpy blue cheese dressing would win the heart of any cheese addict.

Chocolate mousse and pineapple cake lacked oomph and sophistication, but the desserts, like the restaurant itself, were pretty, homemade, and understated.

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