Fisherman's Wharf could improve the quality of its ample menu

June 03, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Staff Writer

Yes, you can get seafood at almost any local restaurant, from French to Chinese, but is there a distinctive and distinguished Baltimore seafood restaurant -- a place devoted specifically to seafood and serving consistently superior cuisine? If there is, it isn't Fisherman's Wharf.

Or at least it isn't the Fisherman's Wharf we went to. The menu informs customers that Chef Mo Manocheh presides over a group of Fisherman's Wharf and Seafood Factory restaurants, markets and carryouts stretching from Parkville to Glen Burnie. We dined at the President Street location near the Inner Harbor, where one's view from the second-floor main dining room of this two-story restaurant is primarily of the Carroll Mansion and the Shot Tower to the north, and the back of Scarlett Place apartment house in the direction of the harbor.

Nicely set tables are a feature of the fairly plain but comfortable dining room, which features buff-colored walls, some art deco touches and a large picture of a fishing scene that certainly suggests seafood. But is there a non-smoking section? When I called and asked they said yes, and when there we asked for non-smoking; they tried to put us next to a table where two people were smoking. Maybe just a misunderstanding.

Fisherman's Wharf lives up to its name in terms of what it serves. Appetizers range from smoked salmon to oysters, clams, mussels, calamari and more. There are entree sections devoted to crab, shrimp and lobster, and there's lots of fish to be had: flounder, ocean perch, catfish, redfish, scrod, grouper, sea trout and on and on. But if you're in a party of seven and Uncle Casper just won't eat seafood, never fear; he can get some chicken or a steak.

Our dinner wasn't a disaster -- and it was nicely served by our good waiter -- but it included too many disappointments. Among first courses, seafood bisque missed the silky sheen of this seductive soup at its best; it was too thick and had a dull flavor. Clams casino featured small clams hiding under a curious and unwelcome blanket of provolone cheese, where simple bread crumbs would have sufficed. Mussels in garlic sauce couldn't be faulted for portion size -- it was enormous -- but the mussels arrived barely warm.

When the waiter recited the day's specials, we misunderstood one of them, thinking he offered a dish of shrimp scampi on spaghetti. Turned out to be lobster -- our mistake -- again a giant portion, and a dish that suffered only from a certain blandness. The two big crab cakes were on the dry side and less than filled with lump crab meat. But both of these main courses proved better than the sauteed sea scallops in lemon butter, with a bitter flavor so unappealing that the friend who ordered them just couldn't eat many.

Dinners came with steamed vegetables and either a baked potato or a house salad -- no one can complain of not getting enough to eat at this restaurant. We ended with a trio of over-heavy desserts -- deep dish apple pie, key lime pie and chocolate eclair cake.

Maybe we hit Fisherman's Wharf on a bad night or at a bad time. We put in our orders not long after a party of more than a dozen people had ordered, and that puts a strain on any kitchen. But the uniformly mediocre quality of our dinners suggests this is a kitchen that could stand improvement.

Fisherman's Wharf

Where: 219 President St.

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to midnight Sundays through Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Credit Cards: AE, Discover, MC, V

Features: Seafood

Non-smoking section? Yes?

Call: (410) 837-8600

Prices: Appetizers $3.95-$12.95; Entrees $11.95-$27.95

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