Taste of the future wins rave reviews for Citronelle-to-be

THE REAL DISH

December 27, 1992|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

He came. He cooked. He conquered.

That was the story when renowned chef Michel Richard made his culinary debut in Baltimore a little more than a week ago.

If the seafood-filled, five-course meal was any hint of things to come, Baltimore is in for many treats when Mr. Richard transforms the Conservatory into Citronelle in early March. (The restaurant is located in the Latham Hotel, formerly the Peabody Court.)

Velvety smooth salmon terrine. Crab coleslaw with sweet peaches. Chocolate mousse brulee drizzled with caramel.

The dish that really brought down the house -- or at least the small group of journalists, hotel executives and food connoisseurs gathered at the restaurant -- was a playful creation Mr. Richard called the "Don King." A scallop wrapped in shredded phyllo dough on a bed of corn polenta, it did indeed resemble the gravity-defying hairdo of the boxing promoter.

During what may have been the world's longest lunch hour (so long, in fact, that the National Aquarium's Nick Brown had to duck out between courses), Mr. Richard introduced Anthony Pels, 29, who will be the executive chef of the restaurant.

For those eager to taste the future, Mr. Pels said he will gradually add new menu items prior to the March opening. (Mr. Richard will divide his time between Baltimore, his two restaurants in California and another in Georgetown opening next month.)

In January, the Baltimore spot will close briefly for renovations. Although interior designer Rita St. Clair will redo the lobby of the hotel, Mr. Richard -- who is known for being particular about decor -- is bringing in his own decorator for the Baltimore Citronelle.

The only casualties of the day: two desserts -- a sour rhubarb tart and a burnt napoleon that Mr. Richard refused to bring out of the kitchen -- and a cut finger he had wrapped in a Band-Aid by the time he waved goodbye.

In other news, there are already changes afoot at Club Renaissance, the John Eager Howard Room-turned-nightclub that opened a month ago in the Belvedere. Tony Japzon, the 31-year-old party guy who made a hit out of the now-defunct Orbit parties at Paradox nightclub, has just signed on as disc jockey and promoter. On January 6, look for the kick-off of Wednesday night "Fetish" parties. Provocative name aside, Mr. Japzon says, "It's not going to be X-rated."

Instead, he's trying to attract club kids from the Baltimore-Washington area with guest DJs from New York, house music and fashion slide shows.

More coffee, anyone? Add to the ever-growing list of coffeehouses, Java Joe's Gourmet Corner, which opened two weeks ago in Charles Plaza. Located where Reamer's used to be, the small restaurant serves a dozen kinds of coffee (hazelnut is the best-seller so far) and 15 specialty sandwiches cleverly named after streets in Baltimore.

The Charles, for instance, combines roast beef, turkey, ham and Swiss cheese on sourdough bread. Or there's the Light Street, a mix of alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, tomato, avocado and honey mustard.

Owned by Lisa and Michael Ditter (Mr. Ditter was a former partner in Gypsy's Cafe), the small spot has an eclectic decor that mixes antiques and IKEA tables.

The couple, who just married in September, have no qualms about working and living together. In fact, they credit a restaurant, Michael's Pub in Columbia, where they met six years ago with bringing them together.

Also on the new restaurant front, the Baltimore General Dispensary is scheduled to open tomorrow at 100 N. Paca Street. A casual 135-seat eatery, its most expensive entree (fried shrimp) will cost only $6.25. Breakfasts are supposed to be a specialty here, especially the Belgian waffles, but there will also be burgers, subs, soups and pizza, according to manager Larry Milburn.

Larry and Lorraine Denmark, the owners of Lorraine's in Owings Mills, introduced a new menu two weeks ago. Anxious to banish their pizza place image, they have expanded their heart-healthy menu and softened the decor. (Say goodbye to those glaringly pink walls.) Some of their more innovative additions include lobster ravioli, sweet potato jalapeno soup and a no-fat pineapple chiffon cake with raspberry glaze that has only 140 calories.

The dishes have been such hits that the Denmarks are talking to the local chapter of the American Heart Association about doing a cookbook.

And finally, cheers to the Devine family who run John W. Faidley Seafood in Lexington Market. Their "big lump" crab cake was named one of the 10 best dishes of 1992 by GQ magazine. In the January issue (on news stands Tuesday), food and wine writer Alan Richman laments the "crab-cake crisis in the country."

But thanks to the 106-year-old Faidley's, there's hope.

"I defy you to bite into a Faidley crab cake," he enthuses, "and not close your eyes with pleasure."

Have news about local restaurants, chefs or clubs? Call (410) 332-6156 or write the Real Dish, Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, 21278.

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