Michael Dalesio strikes again this time, it's bar food with panache

August 06, 1993|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

Michael Dalesio seems to like to get restaurants started and then move on. First it was Dalesio's in Little Italy, then Michael's Riviera Grill at the Brookshire downtown, and then Sam's Waterfront Cafe in Annapolis.

Now he's back in Baltimore, in a most unlikely setting. He's turning out bar food at Ransome's Harbor Hill Cafe.

Of course, this is bar food with panache. It's clams Adriatica and fTC homemade spinach lasagna and seafood Neapolitan. But it's also buffalo wings and a crab cake sandwich with french fries and cole slaw.

Ransome's tiny dining room is very nice -- freshly renovated with green faux marble tabletops, dark wood paneling and pretty little candles on each table. But it is a bar dining room; you can see the TV and the Twilight Zone video game from most of the tables.

Part of Ransome's charm is that it's very much a neighborhood spot. One couple with a small child had wisely ordered ahead so dinner, including a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, was waiting for them when they arrived. How many restaurants will do that for you?

Dinner starts with a fat little loaf of soft, freshly baked Italian bread that you tear with your hands (much to the discomfort of the people at the table next to us; they ended up sending it back to the kitchen to be sliced).

First courses are limited but well-chosen, like a richly flavorful Spanish black bean soup that equals any in the city. Clams Adriatica are broiled with butter and wine, fragrant with garlic and herbs, and finished with a confetti of red pepper and smoky curls of bacon.

Michael and Cindy Dalesio were known for an innovative spa menu at their Little Italy restaurant. Ransome's menu isn't ostensibly healthful, but scallops a la grecque made up for what they lacked in calories with full-bodied flavor. The well-seasoned linguine was tossed with a balanced combination of slivered red, green and yellow peppers, black olives, onions and feta cheese. Plump grilled scallops completed the plate.

So far, wonderful. But chicken with olive oil and garlic didn't live up to the rest of our meal. The chunks of boneless, skinless chicken with fresh mushrooms were less than inspired in their heavily garlicked brown gravy. And the chicken may indeed have been served over rice Milanese, but who could tell when the rice was flooded with that same sauce?

More surprising was a disappointing house salad. The large chunks of iceberg, onion, olives and pepperoncini were enlivened by dead ripe summer tomato wedges, but they couldn't save it. And the Parmesan vinaigrette was sweet.

There was only one serving of homemade Bourbon Street pudding left by the time we were ready for dessert. Having tasted it, I recommend ordering it before you order your first course to be sure to get a piece. Especially if you've never had bread pudding that manages to be at once feather-light and rich as sin.

And, yes, there's a decadent chocolate mousse cake to satisfy your deepest chocolate cravings. But the kitchen covers it and ++ fills the plate around it with a raspberry sauce that makes it look as if it's drenched in blood. Ugh.

Ransome's

Where: 1032 Riverside Ave.

Hours: Open every day from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Credit cards accepted: Major credit cards

Features: Bar food, Italian

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 576-9720

Prices: Appetizers, $4.50-$7.50; entrees, $9.50-$16.75

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