International Flavor In Sweet Little Place


March 07, 1993|By ELIZABETH LARGE

Speakeasy, 2840 O'Donnell St., (410) 276-2977. Open every day for lunch and dinner. AE, DC, MC, V. No-smoking area: yes. Wheelchair-accessible: no. Prices: appetizers, $4.95-$6.95; entrees, $7.95-$17.95.

A restaurant called Speakeasy Saloon and Dining House may sound a little rough and tumble for you, but Canton's newest restaurant is actually a modest, even sweet little place. True, there's a bar in front of the downstairs dining room, and maybe on the weekend things get a little wild. But on a weeknight the bar crowd -- it looked like three or four regulars -- was quite sedate.

Far from resembling a saloon, Speakeasy's two dining rooms have an almost fin-de-siecle drawing room look to them, with potted palms, richly colored walls in shades of dusty rose and mauve, dark wood accents and flowery wallpaper, tablecloths and curtains. The biggest design drawback is the door that swings open constantly to reveal the stark-white, brightly lit kitchen.

The food is billed as American bistro food, but that's not quite accurate either. It does convey the casual feel of the place, the moderate prices and the fact that you can get sandwiches as well as dinners at night. The dishes, though, have an international flavor. If they lean toward any one nationality, it would be Greek (the owners are native Greeks); but there are French and Italian offerings here as well.

My prediction is that this will turn into a popular neighborhood spot. It has pleasant food and a nice atmosphere. Nothing about the cuisine will startle you, but sometimes you don't want to be startled. You just want a decent meal after a hard day at work.

Speakeasy gets high marks, first of all, for its bowls. That may sound odd, but salads and pastas are served in inviting bowls, the size of large plates. The house salad, a simple mix of leaf lettuces, tomato, cucumber, onion and house-made croutons, came in one of these and was big enough to divide among three of us. (Too bad the house dressing, Dijon buttermilk, is sweetened. I can't think of anything that should be made with buttermilk, sugar and onion -- certainly not salad dressing.)

The menu is a little old-fashioned in that it doesn't make a point of having heart-healthy, low-calorie or vegetarian dishes. But it's nice every once in a while just to give in and order battered and fried mozzarella, the cheese hot and deliciously oozy, served on a bed of pesto with ornamental pools of tomato sauce. Or spanakopita, the Greek spinach pie, with its layers and layers of calorie-laden phyllo pastry. If those make you feel too guilty, have the chicken satay for a first course. It's simply cooked, with a good grilled flavor and a pleasant peanut-garlic sauce.

Chicken made an appearance again in penne Lanzone. The strips of breast meat, remarkably tender, were tossed with mushrooms, more pasta than anyone could finish and a rich cream sauce colored and gently flavored by sun-dried tomatoes. It looked a little goopy, but it tasted fine.

You only go round once in life, so you might as well have coconut beer shrimp after your fried mozzarella appetizer. The large shrimp are dipped in beer batter, rolled in coconut and then, of course, fried. You dip them in a sauce of marmalade spiked with horseradish.

These two main courses made the pork chops Athena seem low calorie by comparison. The loin chops, simply grilled with lemon and oregano, were just as good as the more fattening choices.

The vegetables that came with dinner were uninteresting: unadorned rice and school-cafeteria-style peas and carrots. Luckily you don't have to eat your peas and carrots to indulge in chocolate Savannah, which is an intensely bittersweet chocolate ganache in a pecan crust. As if that isn't outrageous enough, it's placed on a pool of warm caramel sauce with a spoonful of whipped cream on the side.

The bread pudding was a warm, custardy, pecan-studded, nutmeg-scented comfort food, truly ugly to look at but a delight to eat.

The two overshadowed a delicate little flan. It was supposedly flavored with coconut liqueur, but I couldn't taste any, maybe because I'd been sampling the chocolate Savannah and the bread pudding.

Next: Cafe Troia

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