Peabody's continues to be inconsistent under new management

RESTUARANT

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

Peabody's

Where: Peabody Court Hotel, 612 Cathedral St.

Hours: Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 7 a.m. to 12 midnight Fridays and Saturdays.

Credit cards accepted: All major credit cards.

Features: American.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (410) 727-7101.

**

Over the years Peabody's in the Peabody Court Hotel has always been problematic. Unlike the Conservatory, the hotel's main dining room upstairs, it's never really settled on an identity. If I ate there every time Peabody's changed its menu, I'd never get to another restaurant. And even though what its kitchen has attempted has always been less challenging than its elegant sibling, Peabody's has never been able to pull it off consistently. I've had wonderful meals there and mediocre ones.

At the beginning of last month, the hotel was taken over by thnew management. Naturally I was curious to see what, if any, changes have occurred in two of Baltimore's most interesting restaurants. (I'll get to the Conservatory later.)

Peabody's dining room seems much the same. And why change any room that looks this good? From the ornate ceilings to the marble-topped tables, mahogany paneling and etched glass, it all works in an elegant, clubby sort of way.

And has the menu changed? Yes, according to our waitress, only a few days ago. Still, the tone is the same, and there are some dishes that have been carried over. Peabody's calls itself "an American Grill"; the new menu continues that mix of grilled meat and fish, salads and sandwiches and elaborate appetizers that can be had on their own with drinks.

One such is the back fin crab fritters with spicy pineapple sals($5.95), which turned out to be better than it sounded. The fritters were akin to miniature deep-fried crab cakes -- hot, crisp bites with succulent crab meat inside. With them was a radicchio leaf filled with the salsa: fresh pineapple, tomato, yellow pepper and onion tossed together. The fiery spicing still let the fresh tastes of the fruit and vegetables come through.

Peabody's also has an excellent black bean soup ($2.95), full-bodied and flavorful; you'll love this soup. Alas, the rest of our meal never quite reached the heights of our first courses.

Sauteed breast of chicken with lemon and fresh basil ($11.95) was the kind of dish that's so simple it has to be perfect to `D succeed. The boneless breast of chicken was beautifully cooked, and the sauce was pleasant if not exciting. I question, though, why -- with white meat of chicken in a pale sauce with slices of lemon -- the kitchen would serve white rice and sliced yellow squash. Especially since both rice and squash were quite bland -- with no butter or seasonings that I could discern.

Grilled fillet of salmon and sweet peppers with sun-dried tomato butter ($14.95) had more color and more pizazz. What it didn't have were any sweet peppers, and I've tasted fresher fish.

Salads are extra, and for my $2.95 I want more than a small plate of red leaf lettuce torn into big pieces, one wedge of tomato, mushrooms slices that have seen better days and a pile of red onion rings.

Dinner ended on a somewhat more upbeat note, though: Desserts are as good as they look on the pastry tray. German chocolate cake was moist and rich, but I especially recommend the comforting bread pudding with silky creme anglaise spiraled with raspberry sauce.

All in all, Peabody's needs to get its act together. And not just the food. The service was sloppy (water glasses not getting filled and so on). I resented having to look inside the open kitchen

door my whole meal (not the most scenic view for this kind of money). I can't blame the new management, though, because Peabody's was erratic long before they came on the scene.

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