City Lights, an original Harborplace tenant, improves with time

January 28, 1994|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

Winter is a fine time to have dinner at Harborplace. No crowds. Great view. The best seats in the house. One of the underrated restaurants at Harborplace is City Lights, a place that's been in the Light Street Pavilion since it opened in 1980. Through the years its character has changed; City Lights has become more of a bar that serves food than it used to be. The surprise is that the food has gotten considerably better.

True, the restaurant once affiliated with the Brass Elephant and Fiori now serves "Bawlmer" wings and chicken pot pie, and the dinner specials menu lists more beers than main courses. True, the menu descriptions are so cute they make you want to gag, like "Onions roasted in their skins (don't worry, it doesn't hurt)." Oldies rock and roll in the dining area competes with too-loud bar music.

But you've got that expanse of windows, and the wintry harborscape beyond. You've got the freshest of seafood and silky sauces. You've got top-notch pastas and seductive desserts.

Don't believe everything you read on the menu. Sublimely fresh rockfish, a special, was sauced with a delicate beurre blanc rather than the promised olive oil and oregano. It was so good no one complained. But a salad of watercress, endive and beets in a piquant vinaigrette arrived with radicchio instead of endive -- not a substitution that should have been made without telling us.

A perfect beginning to a meal is the cream of three roasted onion soup (in spite of the menu description quoted above). It's a smooth, creamy puree -- the essence of onion enhanced with a little Port for good measure. Follow it with penne sauced with cream and tossed with delicate bites of white-meat chicken and artichoke hearts (and bits of tomato instead of the promised spinach and mushrooms).

Shrimp in garlic butter, a first course, turned out to be pleasant if not exciting. The shrimp were nice and plump; serving them over rice made them more of a meal than you might want as an appetizer.

A juicy New York strip steak was made even better by slivers of fried onion. Its delicate but full-bodied sauce was little more than pan juices reduced with red wine. With the steak came new potatoes and steamed fresh broccoli. (The rockfish was flanked by angel hair pasta with threads of squash and carrot.)

Desserts are made in house, so the pastry tray has a little more individuality than many places. My favorite was a

nutmeg-scented custard pie, but I like the warm peach cake-tart with ice cream. The walnut pie was simply too sweet for me, but a friend pronounced it the best of the lot.

City Lights was quiet the night we were there, which meant that our waiter was attentive and made it easy to enjoy the good food. Be warned: When the bar is hopping, this might not be such an idyllic place to have dinner.

City Lights

Where: Light Street Pavilion, Harborplace

Hours: Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: Major credit cards

Features: New American food

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 244-8811

Prices: Appetizers, $4.75-$7.95; entrees, $8.75-$16.95

*** 1/2

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.