Lorraine's inventiveness is better on the menu than on the table

February 21, 1992|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

Lorraine's is the kind of restaurant you want to love. From the menu alone you can tell the owners are imaginative, good-food conscious, health conscious, child friendly and chocolate-loving. What more could you want?To start with, execution. Or maybe, to start a little earlier, atmosphere. Lorraine's is located in a squat little building on Reisterstown Road with a bright pink sign. Inside, the dining room is large, cold and spare, curiously uninviting in spite of the teal, peach and pink color scheme. Maybe the refrigerated Coca Cola case has something to do with it, or the plastic tables and chairs, or the view of the kitchen. On the plus side, there's a fabulous jukebox and no smoking anywhere in the dining room.

Lorraine's specialty is imaginative 10-inch pizzas. I'm not just talking pepperoni with extra cheese and anchovies here. I stopped counting after 23 varieties, and that doesn't include the separate toppings. You could, for instance, have duck sausage with pistachios and chevre while your kids are sharing a pb&j pizza.

At the waiter's suggestion, we ordered shrimp scampi with sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella and fontina for $12. (Yes, that's a pizza, not a seafood dish.) It almost worked. I liked the multi-grain crust -- flavorful, thin and crunchy-crisp at the edges. I liked the mixture of cheeses, the curls of shrimp, the artfully arranged strips of sun-dried tomatoes. What I didn't like was the soggy, and I mean wet, crust at the center. Caused by the shrimp liquid after the pizza is cut? Who knows, but it was a real downer.

Another example of the restaurant's inventiveness is the "peasant appetizers" ($6.95), a tapas-like assortment that changes daily. Unfortunately, the salty-sweet marinade of the cold beef teriyaki flavored the others -- a spoonful of penne pasta salad, marinated vegetables, a stuffed grape leaf and so on. It was hard to tell how they would taste on their own.

Lorraine's makes its own pasta, and the spinach manicotti ($8.95) turned out to be the best of our dinners. The pasta itself was cooked to fall-apart softness so it wasn't as handsome a dish as it could have been; but there was no faulting the generous portion, oozing with melted cheese, or the smooth ricotta filling and excellent marinara sauce.

The house specialty is a thick piece of salmon ($12.95), beautifully fresh and poached to just-doneness, topped with wild mushrooms. The sauce, though, tasted like thickened, uncooked white wine, giving the dish an almost vinegary tang. With the salmon arrived four small squares of grilled yellow and green peppers. No rice or potatoes, no salad -- no bread even.

Dinner so far had made me wary about experimenting with dessert, but a slice of Belgian chocolate pizza ($2) shows what the kitchen could produce if only it would get its act together. It's a pizza in name and looks only. The warm puff pastry crust was covered with a smooth layer of rich chocolate, then decorated with slices of fresh strawberries, banana and starfruit. I could have eaten a whole one.

Lorraine's

Where: 9637 Reisterstown Road.

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner 11 a.m. to midnight Sundays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Credit Cards: MC, V.

Features: Pizzas, eclectic cuisine.

Non-smoking section? No smoking allowed.

Call: (410) 356-1616.

**

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