An Up-and-down Dinner

DINING OUT

February 16, 1992|By JANICE BAKER

Remember Something Fishy -- a couple of blocks up from the harbor, and west of Broadway Market in Fells Point? When it closed, Something Fishy's building stood dark for nine months. Then Foster's Oyster Bar, Restaurant and Market turned the lights and the heat back on, and put a fire in the fireplace and pans back on the stoves. The oyster bar and restaurant have been in business since November. Foster's fish market opened last February.

Both the bar and restaurant are pleasant, clean, attractive and imbued with the spirit of Fells Point. From our Victorian oak table in one of several dining rooms, we had a view of a number of old panels of stained glass, and -- a particularly engaging feature -- a colorful ceiling light fixture fashioned after the rosy-cheeked figureheads in flowing robes that rode foremost on the prows of ships. Sea toys are pertinent at Foster's. The bar sells 50-cent oysters, the restaurant sells mostly fish.

Yes, the menu lists some non-seafood preparations, including a smoked chicken salad platter ($7.50), black bean and turkey chili ($3.95 for a small bowl), rack of baby lamb ($20.95) and Texas free-range antelope ($19.95). Seafood predominates, however. There were classics: spicy steamed shrimp ($5.75 for a 1/2 -pound), steamed clams (six for $5.75), clams casino (six for $5.95) and broiled crab cakes ($8.50 for 6 ounces, $9.95 for 8 ounces). More fanciful suggestions included Chestertown quiche ($8.95) -- crab, mushrooms, herbs, Jarlsberg cheese and custard in a pie crust, served with a green salad.

Three of us began our meal with orders of black and white lobster ravioli ($7.25), a market salad ($3.95) and grilled wild boar sausage ($6.50). Results were mixed. We would have liked more the humor of the zebra-striped, black and white pasta had the lobster filling had greater vitality and had there been greater complexity to the brandied cream sauce. Moreover, the oyster mushrooms were grievously bitter.

On the other hand, the salad was piquant and delightful, setting thin slices of smoked duck and poached pear over arugula, watercress and radicchio, all dressed lightly with a sweet maple-mustard vinaigrette. The wild boars of the wild boar sausage (do wild boars still roam? -- these were said to come from Texas) had been ground into vigorously flavored sausages with tastes somewhere between venison and pork. Split down )) the center to make four halves, they'd been broiled until their edges curled and charred, and set over a fruity bed of soft, cooked red cabbage delicately sweet with the flavors of apple and caraway seeds.

For entrees, we ordered two dishes from a printed specials sheet -- salmon ($14.75) and shrimp stuffed with crab meat and herbed cheeses ($16.85) -- and the special offered only on Tuesdays, steamed lobster ($10.95). (Features on other nights: Sundays, a burger and a beer, $5.95; Mondays, a New York strip steak dinner, $14.95; Wednesdays, a shrimp dinner, $9.95; and Thursdays, a crab cake dinner, $9.95.)

We all thought the fresh, perfectly cooked salmon was the best of the three, though its mustard sauce seemed unnecessarily assertive for a fish with considerable character of its own. Beneath the salmon lay a bed of sweet-and-sour onions cooked with balsamic vinegar, which, like the mustard sauce, was likable and vigorous.

How do you stuff a shrimp? By butterflying it, placing it on its spread sides, arching the tail around and tucking forcemeat between the body and the tail. At Foster's, six shrimp were stuffed with basil and bread crumbs softened with cheese, and served with four mushroom-shaped new potatoes. (There was a choice from among french fries, new potatoes, baked potato and rice). In addition, all three entrees came with a mixture of steamed, lightly oiled and rather-too-plain vegetables: carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers and zucchini.

One of the people who seemed to be in charge came around to remind us the lobster was a terrific bargain. We went for it, but shouldn't have. It was large, yes, but also chewy and without the sweet succulence of lobster at its best, while the clear, yellow oil served with it neither looked nor tasted like real butter. So we took solace in the delicious french fries.

Our dessert luck was equally up and down. Up: a warm, sweet and spicy apple cranberry crisp ($3.60). Down: a tough, tired pecan chocolate bourbon pie ($4.20) with an unbreakable crust. Somewhere in between: a slice of currant cake ($4.20), light and moist in the middle, rubbery and gelatinous on top.

Service was amiable but not always smooth. Bread appeared as we were finishing our entrees. Desserts were a long time coming. Dishes were cleared before everyone at the table had finished eating. One of my guests remarked, as we left, however, "Say nice things. I want to come back, and I want to be sure it's here." He ordered the market salad, the shrimp and the currant cake, in case you want to know.Next:

No Da Gi

Foster's Oyster Bar, Restaurant and Market, 606 S. Broadway, (410) 558-3600 HOURS:

Sundays to Thursdays 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays a.m. to 11 p.m. ACCEPTS: All major credit cards FEATURES: Seafood NO-SMOKING SECTION: Yes WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes

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