At BMA's Museum Cafe, the picture has changed for the better

April 02, 1993|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

The last time I ate at the Museum Cafe -- last fall -- dinner was something of a disaster. To make matters worse, a couple of weeks before the review appeared in the paper a new chef took over the kitchen. (I didn't find out until later.)

It's the restaurant critic's nightmare. You can't spend your time going back to the same places, but you want to be fair. And this was as unfair as it gets. Especially since the new chef, Christopher Cherry, had worked at Tabrizi's and the Polo Grill -- restaurants known in Baltimore for their good food. Chances were that things had improved at the Museum Cafe before the review was ever printed.

They're certainly improved now. I've always liked the contemporary dining room with the floor-to-ceiling view of the museum's sculpture garden. And I've liked the kind of food the Museum Cafe has served over the years -- innovative and casual, with a healthy twist to many of the dishes. (Although I do think I've had enough alfalfa sprouts to last me the rest of my life. No more, please, no matter how artfully used.)

Chef Cherry hasn't changed the style of the food at the cafe. What he's done is made it work. For instance, when I ordered the special, grilled tuna, I was asked how I wanted it cooked. It came just as ordered -- rare -- with a lovely smoky flavor. (Obviously the fish has to be perfectly fresh for this to be palatable.) I loved its silky white-wine sauce and the fresh, just-cooked spinach and sauteed wild mushrooms arranged with it.

Most of the offerings aren't this elaborate. For a lighter meal, try the excellent Oriental chicken salad with spinach, almonds, slivers of red pepper and delicate bits of chicken with a spicy, slightly sweet sesame dressing. Or cheese tortellini tossed with grilled vegetables in a warm, tangy balsamic vinaigrette. Or a Caesar salad with unusually fresh romaine and a good balance )) of traditional flavors.

A Parmesan quiche with grilled red peppers and mushrooms had a delicate, quivery custard and wonderfully flaky pastry. With it you get a small salad; the dressing, which the waitress called a creamy lemon vinaigrette, was like a fine homemade mayonnaise. Only a "lamb ragout soup" failed to please: it tasted like a watery lamb stew.

As for dessert, the selection changes but our most spectacular choice was banana sections wrapped in spring roll wrappers and deep-fried, then served with warm chocolate sauce and ice cream. The combination of flavors and textures is surprising -- and it tastes great.

Unfortunately, one thing hasn't changed: The service was just as off-the-wall as it was last time I ate at the Museum Cafe. We waited endlessly because we weren't going to the film showing at the museum that night. And then I noticed when I sat down that someone had spilled quite a bit of sugar on the floor next to our table. Near it were a squashed french fry (always something you want to look at while you're eating) and crumpled paper. When our waitress slipped in the sugar I told her it had been bothering me. "That's OK," she said with an unconcerned wave of her hand. "They're doing the floors tomorrow."

Museum Cafe

Where: Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive.

Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: AE, MC, V.

Features: Contemporary American.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: (410) 235-3930.

Prices: Entrees, $6.95-$18.95.

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