L'Auberge an island of elegant dining

MATTERS OF TASTE

August 13, 1992|By Mary Maushard

Sitting in the quiet elegance of the dining room at L'Auberge, it's difficult to imagine that you're next door to a Broadway liquor store or just across the street -- wide though it is -- from the Ritz Cabaret V.I.P.Lounge and Show Bar.

But such is the eclectic charm of Fells Point. One minute you're enveloped in a sophisticated French dining room with dark green walls, salmon tablecloths, fresh flowers and candlelight dancing off shimmering glassware. The next you're thrust back into the earthiness of one of Baltimore's earliest neighborhoods.

Perhaps it is this juxtaposition of quiet charm amid raucous fun that makes L'Auberge so inviting. Sit back, sip a little wine and savor the mussel soup -- the tough times seem far away, very faraway.

And there is nothing about L'Auberge to break the mood. The food is excellent, beautifully presented and full of flavor. The service is as charming -- and as accommodating -- as the atmosphere. The staff's willingness to please is evident.

L'Auberge is a fine place to dine -- a quiet, romantic, charming haven that does not let you down.

We began with two soups -- onion ($3.95) and the mussel ($5). My husband thought the onion soup among the best he's ever had; the onions were lightly caramelized in a broth redolent with wine -- "two reds and one white, no water," our waiter said -- and thick with cheese.

The mussel soup, one of the evening's specials, was served in a tiny, but tall, white tureen. The mussels floated in a thin cream lightly laced with sherry and enhanced by the flavor of warm Swiss cheese that had been laid in the bottom of the tureen. The mussels were beautifully tender and nicely complemented by the warm sherry cream broth.

The Salade d'endive ($5) featured beautifully fresh Belgian endive sprinkled with walnuts and dressed with an excellent, light, oil-based dressing.

Although the menu is small, it has some unusual entrees, such as

frog legs and sweetbreads. We chose veal with mushrooms and cheese ($15.50) and Dover sole ($22). Both were wonderful.

The beautifully prepared veal was tender and flavorful. It was topped with cheese and a wonderfully creamy sauce with mushrooms. My husband thought it delicious.

The Dover sole was on a par, with the sweet taste that makes this fine fish so alluring. It was served with a lemon-butter sauce that was opaque enough to look like cream, but without the weight. Our waiter fileted the sole at our table, an artful presentation.

With our entrees, we were served a plate of fresh vegetables to share: broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes and two small, flavorful tomatoes, sprinkled with basil. The assortment was colorful and cooked just until fork tender.

We could hardly wait for dessert. At the server's suggestions, I chose the Vacherin Glace ($5), a large concoction of meringue, raspberry gelato, raspberry puree, whipped cream and, of course, a few perfect red raspberries.

The crispy meringue was a tantalizing complement to the gelato and the heavenly taste of raspberries was everywhere. Superb!

My husband's apple dessert ($4) was no less tantalizing -- a whole apple, with pureed strawberries where the core had been, baked in a crust. It was rich, but not heavy.

We finished our meal with coffee ($1) and espresso ($2) and the last of a very good half-bottle of San Cerre wine ($12.50). The rich, dark dining room is a lovely place to linger, savoring the fine moments of this meal.

Beset by apparent financial difficulties, L'Auberge sought protection under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code several months ago. But this does not seem to have hampered this restaurant, which has always enjoyed a fine reputation.

Hours have been reduced to dinner only five nights a week during the summer, but the people still come, as evidenced by a very respectable crowd on the Tuesday night we visited.

And there will be a new menu soon, we were told, but it includes many dishes from the previous one, as well as some of the courses that are "specials" now.

Judging by our meal, it's difficult to imagine a course that wouldn't be special at L'Auberge. This is indeed a special, special occasion restaurant -- a real "keeper" among Baltimore restaurants.

This review concludes Mary Maushard's career as restaurant critic for The Evening Sun. Matters of Taste will no longer appear in Thursday's Evening Sun. Instead, beginning next week, Elizabeth Large's restaurant reviews will appear in the Friday editions of both papers. Mary Maushard's reviews will appear in The Sun's spring and fall dining guides.

L'Auberge Restaurant

505 S. Broadway

732-1151

Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday until September. Closed Sunday and Monday

Reservations: Not required but "happily" accepted.

Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.

Handicapped access: Limited access, restrooms upstairs.

Smoking: No separate areas designated.

****

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