The Portions Are Large, But Size Isn't Everything

DINING OUT

March 06, 1994|By ELIZABETH LARGE

Timbuktu, 1726 Dorsey Road, Hanover, (410) 796-0733. Open Mondays to Saturdays for lunch and dinner, Sundays for dinner only. Major credit cards. No-smoking area: yes. Wheelchair-accessible: yes. Prices: appetizers, $6.95-$7.95; entrees, $8.95-$28.95. No, it's not the town on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. It's a big, sprawling restaurant near BWI Airport, where the most exotic food on the menu is probably the manicotti.

And surely the owners didn't name their restaurant Timbuktu to suggest that it's hard to get to. (According to the menu, the main access to the city in the Republic of Mali is by camel. The menu doesn't explain why it's giving you this fact; it just gives it.) To get to Hanover's Timbuktu, you take Route 176 west off Route 295 and it's half a mile on your right. No problem there.

So you've got your sign with a camel running full speed on it, and you've got your bikini contest every Friday night in the bar. But this is basically a good ole family-style restaurant, where the folks are friendly and the portions of mostly American food are huge.

The atmosphere isn't what you're going to remember about eating here. The dining room we sat in (the front one) has dark paneling and a low ceiling and nondescript pictures on the walls. The most memorable part of the decor is the refrigerator case filled with larger-than-life desserts.

No, what you're going to remember is the size of the portions. This restaurant operates on the principle that bigger is much better.

Take the stuffed oysters. What you have to realize is that the oysters, which are small and sweet, have almost nothing to do with this dish except to provide their shells. Each of the six is heaped with crab imperial -- as much crab as you would normally get in a small crab cake. This isn't an exaggeration. Our waiter tells us that usually people manage to finish three of them and take the other three home.

The stuffed oysters are impressive, but I'm not wild about the seasoning in Timbuktu's crab imperial, and the baked topping tastes a little greasy.

Or take the roast prime rib, which doesn't seem exactly roasted to me. Although it's ordered medium rare, it looks brown until you cut into it, as though the beef has been sauteed. And I'm not crazy about whatever has been added to the juices. It's quite salty and has a strong flavor that detracts from the good meat. But no complaints about the pound or more of prime rib itself.

Interesting -- if the kitchen did nothing to that beef, it would be fine. But they have to fuss with it. This is true almost across-the-board; that one thing keeps the food from being as good as it should be. A shrimp cocktail has handsome, big shrimp, but so much horseradish has been added to the cocktail sauce it's inedible. And what good are steamed shrimp without anything to dip them in?

A lobster cocktail contains an extraordinary amount of lobster, but it's served so ice cold it's almost tasteless, and when you dip the lobster into the melted butter, the butter congeals on the spot.

A broiled rockfish fillet is nice and fresh and not too grievously overcooked, but it's heavily doused with paprika. What's the point?

Only clams casino are flawless, with plump little clams, minced red and green pepper, not too much in the way of bread crumbs, lots of butter and thick curls of bacon.

We ordered mostly seafood, but Timbuktu isn't just a seafood restaurant. There are, for instance, eight chicken dishes on the menu. Our waiter steered us away from the chicken a la Timbuktu, however. He had tried it and liked the chicken and the mushrooms and the wine; but when he went back to the kitchen to ask what the white things were, the chef had told him they were artichoke hearts. So he couldn't recommend it.

Two vegetables come with dinner. You could get a salad, the whitest salad I've ever seen (speaking of white things). It has white iceberg lettuce and anemic winter tomatoes and a thick coating of sweetened blue cheese dressing.

Or you could have the coleslaw, mushy and very sweet. Or terrible-tasting cauliflower. (Hard to imagine how you could make cauliflower taste terrible, but there you are.) Or a baked potato tightly wrapped in foil. Canned corn and whipped potatoes are the best bets.

We aren't surprised that desserts are oversized, given the rest of our meal, but size isn't everything. The cherry pie comes ice cold and has a thick, heavy crust. Rice pudding just doesn't taste right, and I'm not sure why. Only baklava (there are Greek items here and there on the menu) is so sweet and full of walnuts and mouth-wateringly good that we are actually delighted there's so much of it.

Next: Brass Elephant

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