A pretty place, but in its offerings, Tree's stands on uneven ground

October 08, 1993|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

Some of the most pleasant restaurants in Baltimore are th ones located in once-grand rowhouses. The owners have incorporated the beautiful moldings, elegant appointments and stately mantels of the original homes into their restaurants' dining rooms. I'm thinking of places like the Brass Elephant and the Orchid and, on a slightly smaller scale, Tree's.

xTC What a pretty dining room Tree's has, with its high ceilings, ornate chandelier, fine woodwork, soft gray walls and flowery tablecloths covered with glass. A nice place for a leisurely lunch.

And lunch is what Tree's does -- all it does, and only on weekdays. (There's also a full-scale catering operation.) The restaurant, with its modestly priced menu of pastas, salads, sandwiches and quiches, has been around awhile and is quite successful at lunchtime, although it didn't get enough business to stay open evenings. It's the upscale sibling of Tony's, the sandwich shop below. Both are owned by Tony Portera and are family-run.

There's a bit of Italian flavor to the offerings, and, in fact, pasta is what the kitchen does best. A pretty dish of rotini was a standout, the spiral pasta tossed with bits of grilled chicken, prosciutto and bright green peas in a light cream sauce. It was just the right amount for lunch, rich but not too rich. Thumbs down on the pedestrian Italian bread that comes with it, though. Of course, you could always order the muffin of the day, which seems to be a house specialty. But since the muffin of the day was chocolate chip, I passed.

The quiche of the day was heavy and somewhat rubbery, with a thick, chewy crust. The flavors of the cheese, peppers and mushrooms were fine, but they couldn't overcome the texture. A salad with the quiche had attractive greens and a freshly made vinaigrette, but the "seasonal garnish" included big, woody mushrooms.

On another visit, the food was equally uneven. I was surprised that a Mediterranean shrimp and vegetable soup was a thick, creamy puree. It tasted OK and had generous pieces of shrimp in it, but the soup was so thick and so rich I should never have ordered a bowl. I felt like I was eating gravy.

On the other hand, a turkey melt sandwich was surprisingly good, starting with its warm, fresh rye bread. We're not breaking any culinary ground here, but the lightly melted provolone, flavorful smoked turkey and crisp bacon were an appealing combination.

This time, by the way, I decided I really should try the muffin of the day. To my dismay, it turned out to be cherry -- a sort of ghastly pink with the artificial flavor of cherry cake mix. The muffin of the day may not be an idea whose time has come. Not with Mediterranean shrimp and vegetable soup, anyway.

Tree's

Where: 2121 N. Charles St.

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday

Credit cards accepted: MC, V

Features: Lunch

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 727-2121

Prices: $4.25-$7.50

** 1/2

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