At Sascha's pre-theater buffet, show is better than substance

January 29, 1993|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

It's a smart idea for Center Stage to have a prix fixe buffet on its mezzanine an hour and a half before evening performances. You can get there early, and not have to worry about parking or walking from a nearby restaurant to the show. It can be a very relaxing evening. And you don't need a ticket to the play if you just want to stop for a quick, imaginative and inexpensive supper on the way home from work.

One of the real pluses of dinner at Center Stage is the setting. The high ceilings, windows and exposed brick walls of the old building look elegantly contemporary when combined with slate-colored cafe tables, bentwood chairs and a sweep of plants. And the subdued spot lighting makes you feel a little like you're on stage.

Sascha's Catering has been running the buffet for three seasons now, so it's not a new idea. But it hasn't gotten much press. It's actually a return to Center Stage for Sascha Wolhandler, who sold entree and dessert crepes there when she first started in the food business.

The concept is simple. The fixed price of $11 buys a seasonally appropriate soup, a choice of eight entrees, salad, good French bread and one of several simple desserts. If you want a soda, a mixed drink or a glass of wine, you can get it at Center Stage's bar.

I was a devoted lunch customer of Sascha's Carry Out before it closed, so I had high expectations for the food. And indeed it was every bit as interesting and well thought out as I imagined it would be. The concept is great. The execution was not.

dTC No complaints about the soup -- a smooth-as-silk, pleasantly spicy sweet potato bisque. But both our main courses, which sounded wonderful, disappointed. Gulf shrimp in a garlic and wine sauce over whole wheat noodles were undercooked (not something I complain about often -- I'm pretty fussy about not overcooking seafood). The dish was room temperature by the time we got it to our table, so the overly garlicky sauce was gelatinous.

On the other hand, chicken pot pie with a pretty crust of puff pastry had been baked to almost inedible dryness. Not that it was any warmer than the shrimp when we got it.

A salad of romaine and raw vegetables with a good Parmesan vinaigrette came with both main courses. It led me to believe better choices would have been the entrees that were cold to begin with: a salade nicoise; an open-face shrimp salad sandwich served with two salads; a sandwich of vegetables and homemade herbed cream cheese on Armenian flatbread; or Bangkok chicken salad with tabouli and marinated Oriental vegetables.

Desserts included a small fresh fruit cup, a brownie, a black-bottom cupcake and my favorite, a shortbread lemon square. They reminded me just how good Sascha's food can be, and made me wonder again what had gone wrong with our entrees.

Sascha's at Center Stage

Where: 700 N. Calvert St.

Hours: 1 1/2 hours before evening performance.

Credit cards accepted: No.

Features: Prix fixe menu.

Non-smoking section? No smoking allowed.

Call: (410) 332-0033.

Prices: $11

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