The Brass Elephant is a charming, genteel restaurant with shimmering chandeliers, flickering candles and shining brass. Someone who knows nothing of The Brass Elephant but its name might expect less civility.
The Brass Elephant, housed in an elegant Charles Street row house, enjoys a widespread reputation as one of Baltimore's best special-occasion restaurants.
Indeed, it is special -- pretty and comfortably formal without being stuffy. Service and food are generally good, occasionally excellent.
We were seated upstairs in a room that is used mainly on weekends, the maitre' d said, when the two downstairs dining rooms can't accommodate the crowd. With about a dozen tables, it was an attractive room, though a bit out of the way. The main dining room, with a window on Charles Street and a beautiful mantel, is my favorite.
The menu, reflecting the restaurant's Northern Italian leanings, includes pastas such as Spaghetti Carbonara ($10.50), Fusilli with Crab & Shrimp ($13) and Lasagna Di Carnivale ($11).
Other entrees include Grilled Yellowfin Tuna Oreganato ($18), Sweetbreads Supreme in Marsala wine and cream ($17) and Grilled Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Red Pepper Sauce ($22). These include a salad; the pastas do not.
I started on a high note with Mushroom Struedel with Madeira Cream Sauce ($6.75), one of the evening's special appetizers. My husband ordered Stuffed Eggplant ($4.75) from the regular menu.
The ''struedel'' was actually three small triangular pies, similar to Greek cheese and spinach pies. The flaky pastry was delicious; inside was a single layer of sauteed mushroom slices. The three pies were bathed in a creamy sauce rich with the taste of mushrooms and Madeira. The wine's slightly sweet edge cut beautifully through the cream. Wonderful.
My husband's appetizer, though good, wasn't as outstanding as the "struedel." Served in an oval dish, the eggplant resembled lasagna with layers of cheese and tomato sauce. The treatment overwhelmed the distinctive flavor of eggplant.
For entrees we chose Scallops & Shrimp Marinara ($18) and Veal Tenderloin with Grilled Portobello Mushrooms, Fried Leeks, Potato Gratin and Pinot Noir ($20), another special.
I was served nearly a dozen shrimp and scallops, some very large, some not, over linguine in a light but flavorful tomato sauce that hinted of summer's ripest tomatoes. It was delightful and more than I could eat.
My husband's veal was beautiful. Slices of tenderloin fanned out from a display of sauteed leeks, mushrooms and a-sort-of potato pattie. Amid the swoons, he said it was the best veal he had ever had.
We also had broccoli with hollandaise ($3) a la carte. The broccoli was just crunchy; the sauce, beautifully light but rich; it was virtually perfect.
Our waitress needed two trips to show off the homemade desserts, but we rewarded her efforts. And ours were, in turn, rewarded.
I enjoyed a wonderful fruit tart ($4), which began with an almond-flavored crust topped with vanilla pastry cream and a colorful array of raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and kiwi. All this in the middle of winter. It was delicious.
My husband's White Chocolate Cake ($4) was even better. The layers were separated by an intense white chocolate icing. Fresh raspberries dotted the top.
Too bad the coffee tasted as if it had been sitting on a hot plate too long. These desserts deserved better.
Our bill, with three cocktails, a half-bottle of wine ($12) and the coffee was $90. Our waitress had been friendly and attentive, and the meal well-paced. The Brass Elephant continued to live up to its reputation.
*** The Brass Elephant
924 N. Charles St.
Hours: lunch served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner served 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Reservations: Always recommended.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Not accessible.
Smoking: No pipe or cigar smoking permitted; no designated areas for cigarette smoking.