Peabody's came onto the Baltimore restaurant scene about six years ago as The Brasserie, an elegantly classy bistro in a corner of the equally elegant Peabody Court Hotel just off Mount Vernon square.
It was a gracious spot for power breakfasts and leisurely, if somewhat pricey, lunches. What I remember most about The Brasserie was a raspberry-studded chocolate cake that was worth the trip -- from Philadelphia . . . or San Juan.
The Brasserie is gone and, with it, that chocolate cake. In its place is Peabody's, An American Grill. It is a more informal restaurant amid the formal trappings -- plenty of brass, wood and marble -- of The Brasserie.
And although I had no quarrel with the more reasonable prices and the less-snooty menu, I was bothered by something about Peabody's on our recent visit. I still can't put my finger on it. It just seemed a little down on its luck somehow.
Perhaps it was that Peabody's wasn't busy when we visited in the middle of the week. Perhaps it was the blackboard with specials outside the door on Monument Street.
Perhaps it was our waitress, who conceded she was new and didn't know much about the menu. Perhaps it was the menu, which she said was also new, and seemed a bit schizophrenic with several Tex-Mex offerings and some Chinese and Italian dishes amid the prime rib and seafood.
I still can't put my finger on it.
Oh well. We put our finger on one great dish -- grilled chicken quesadillas ($4.95), the appetizer equivalent of that long-gone and lamented chocolate cake. The tortilla crust was crunchy and delicious; the cheese and chicken filling tender, gooey and delicious. With it came a good, and hot, salsa and some peppers on the side that were zingers. The heat-shy should avoid them.
The quesadillas were almost too much for an appetizer, but we ate them anyway, so captivating was their flavor.
Far less flavorful was my avocado and mozzarella salad ($4.95). This sounded like a wonderful combination and indeed it looked wonderful with tomatoes and walnuts. But both the cheese and the vegetables lacked flavor and the walnut vinaigrette wasn't enough to pep them up.
For entrees, we had shrimp and scallop alfredo ($11.95) and a grilled seafood taco with guacamole ($12.95).
The alfredo was large and "simply delicious," said my dinner companion. Tomatoes studded the creamy sauce and the seafood was quite tender.
The dinner taco was really unusual. The plate contained all the makings of a taco, but not in a traditional arrangement. The taco shell was large and stood almost perpendicular to the mixture of shrimp, scallops and an unidentifiable -- even to the waitress -- white fish. On the edges were dollops of guacamole, onion and salsa.
The scallops were especially delicious -- large and tender, until I bit into one that had been showered with taco seasoning. After that I couldn't taste much.
My taste buds recovered in time for dessert. Our chatty waitress said all the desserts were made in the hotel, but they were slightly disappointing for homemade.
I chose strawberry mousse cheesecake ($2.95), which had a lovely thin wafer crust but too much bounce to the filling. Both its taste and texture were closer to gelatin than mousse.
My friend ordered the evening's special dessert, baked peaches ($4.25). Sprinkled with walnuts and bathed lightly in cream, the warm fruit was light and flavorful. The serving, however, seemed small for the price.
The bill for our meals, with three cocktails, one beer and two coffees, was $62.50.
We lingered a long time over coffee at our very pleasant window table and enjoyed the waitress's comments about the hotel business.
The meal had been fun, and a bit experimental, which might also be said about Peabody's, a once classy bistro turned comfortable American grill.
Peabody Court Hotel 612 Cathedral St. 727-7101
Hours: 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily; Sunday brunch seatings at a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Reservations: Recommended for brunch and dinner.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible by elevator from hotel lobby
Smoking: No separate areas designated.