Attention To Detail Can Be A Plus And A Minus

DINING OUT

December 13, 1992|By ELIZABETH LARGE

A "Dining Out" review in the Sun Magazine last Sunda incorrectly said that credit cards are not accepted at the Sunshine Cafe in Baltimore. In fact, several cards are, according to owner Scott Sunshine. Dinner prices range from $7 to $16.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Sunshine Cafe, 11 W. Preston St., (410) 783-0230. Open for lunch Mondays through Fridays, dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays. No credit cards. No-smoking area: yes. Wheelchair accessible: no.

The Sunshine Cafe -- in concept -- is the kind of restaurant Baltimore needs. A menu that relies on fresh ingredients. Dishes that have style, like black pepper fettuccine served with a spicy tomato, basil and walnut pesto. Prices that are reasonable, with the most expensive dish costing $8.50. Several vegetarian sandwiches and entrees, but also chicken and fish. (Only red meat lovers will be unhappy: There isn't any.) And once you've finished all this healthful eating you can splurge on a white and dark chocolate mousse cake or pecan pie.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The Sunshine Cafe is located in a wonderful old rowhouse on West Preston Street, above a natural foods store but not connected to it. The beautiful wood of the house remains, as do the period chandeliers, the ornate mantelpiece, the high windows and a bit of stained glass. The artwork changes: On one visit it was quite gloomy, surprising at a place called the Sunshine Cafe; but the next time landscapes flooded with light hung on the walls. Although the cafe is a relatively new restaurant, it has a slightly shabby air; I'm not sure why.

My impression of the food is that while it has its moments, the kitchen isn't paying enough attention to details. Dishes will have one flaw that hurts them. Take the hearts of palm and endive salad ($4.95). It was a pretty creation, with romaine and radicchio as a bed for the palm and endive. But the balsamic dressing tasted like pure vinegar, nothing more, nothing less. A bowl of subtly seasoned black bean soup ($2.75) was handsomely decorated with strips of red pepper and parsley, but it was served lukewarm. Polenta with smoked Gouda sauce ($3.25), decorated with minced red and yellow pepper, fairly sang with flavor, but the polenta was greasy and the sauce had a lumpy, unappealing look.

The chicken in a chunk chicken salad sandwich ($4.50) watossed with grapes and smoked almonds, an offbeat but not unappealing combination. What ruined it were the two stale pieces of whole-wheat bread, presented without so much as a spoonful of mayonnaise or a leaf of lettuce.

The kitchen actually did better with the more complicated dishes. The colored pastas in the tricolor vegetable lasagna ($5.50) made for a handsome dish, well-balanced with ricotta and vegetables like green pepper and zucchini.

An entree of grilled vegetables ($4.95) included eggplant, red and yellow peppers, onions and zucchini, marinated in Asian spices. They were good to look at and had a fine flavor, with just an edge of char. Too bad they were so greasy.

For the lemon dill chicken ($5.50), the kitchen started with boneless breast, topped it with fresh dill, breaded it and sauteed it. But it needed something more -- a little lemon butter, maybe -- to keep it from being dry.

If you want bread, you have to ask for it, judging from our twvisits. The service in general is good, although the restaurant was full on our first visit so the lone waitress was frantic. We waited a long time for our meal, but that seemed to be the kitchen's fault, not hers. The second time we were the only people there, and things ran much more smoothly.

Desserts are reasonably priced, in the $2-$3 range. Now thapeople aren't drinking as much, some restaurants are making up for the profits they've lost by charging extravagantly for desserts. Not so the Sunshine Cafe. If you catch the desserts when they're fresh, they can be very good, but a piece of pecan pie had sat around too long and was soggy, with a chewy crust.

While I said at the beginning more attention should be paid tdetail, actually attention is paid to one detail: how each dish looks. A lemon slice was elegantly carved. Salads were sprinkled with minced parsley. With the chicken and lasagna came four thin slices of zucchini arranged very prettily. (Unfortunately, this was the promised vegetable. It was actually no more than a garnish.) For once -- even though I love beautiful food -- I wished the kitchen would pay less attention to looks and more attention to taste.

Next: Gabriel's

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