Seafood doesn't seem particularly to be a specialty (although we had no complaints about the shrimp with Chinese vegetables or the whole fish we tried). But I do know where the "jumbo" part of the name comes from: Whatever you order, be assured you won't go away hungry.
Liberatore's, 9515 Deereco Rd., Timonium, (410) 561-3300. $$$
Great Italian food can indeed be found outside the borders of Little Italy. Liberatore's proves it. Here you can find a flawlessly prepared lobster tetrazzini and a creamy, dreamy tiramisu. (The service is superb and the parking a breeze, too.)
The carpaccio topped with caponata was exquisitely tender on our visit, the cheese tortellini accompanied by a fresh and flavorful three-sauce combo of tomato, pesto and Alfredo. The lobster tetrazzini in brandy cream sauce was a decadent delight worth every calorie. Even the extras were well-executed -- the ensalata mista, a medley of radicchio, endive and romaine, was perfectly dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The airy, contemporary setting may not appeal to those who appreciate the cozy quarters of the traditional Italian bistro, but that's a quibble when all else goes so well. The cannoli was crisp and not overly sweet and the tiramisu a delicate balance of cream and cake.
Linwood's, 25 Crossroads Dr., Owings Mills, (410) 356-3030. $$$1/2
The swank decor, solicitous service and innovative weekly menu continue to put Linwood Dame's Owings Mill restaurant on every best-of-Baltimore list. True, the kitchen's flights of fancy are some of the highest-flying in the area. But just as Hemingway eschewed adjectives in favor of action, the menu should ease up the loving descriptions of every dish. As good as they often are, the dishes have a hard time measuring up to the glowing written portraits.
One evening's lovely pan-seared Hudson Valley foie gras appetizer sported a tart mound of shredded pear and a sprinkling of pecans, and a mixed green salad was certainly a carefully composed starter. Entrees were less successful -- a lengthily described roasted rack of lamb, with a kiln-dried cherry sauce no less, ended up having the exact same vegetable medley as a pecan-crusted catfish dish.
Linwood's legendary chocolate bread pudding, with its molten, silky center, continues to please. A house-made berry sorbet, however, was a bit too sweet.
Louie's Bookstore Cafe
Louie's Bookstore Cafe, 518 N. Charles St., (410) 962-1224. $$1/2
Louie's reaches out to free spirits who don't mind green paper napkins, bare tables and casual service. It's the perfect setting for reading a book, drinking cappuccino and indulging in homemade desserts. Or for sampling cuisine from a tempting menu while listening to live classical music. We did a little of each.
The Okonomi-yaki, a Japanese pancake made with shredded vegetables, and the Manhattan clam chowder were wonderful starters. We also enjoyed the moist baked salmon and chicken breast with fresh sage. For moderate appetites, the menu also offers a nice selection of salads, sandwiches and burgers.
Desserts are a real temptation here. We were content with our waitress' recommendation -- an oh-so-rich mocha raspberry cake. Our other choice, a white chocolate almond poundcake, was a plain Jane, though a delicious vanilla ice cream saved it a bit.
McCafferty's, 1501 Sulgrave Ave., (410) 664-2200. $$$
At this Mount Washington beefeteria, the owners oversee the whole process. They raise their own beef, transport it, age it, cut it and serve it in the form of New York strip, prime rib, filet mignon -- even beef jerky. In addition, they've managed to create a sleek forum for their stellar collection of sports memorabilia and mementos of the senior Don McCafferty's stint as coach of the NFL's Baltimore Colts.
While well-aged, marbled USDA prime beef is the center of attention, the kitchen turns out a nice Caesar salad, albeit a little tame for our tastes, and a silken crab and lobster bisque enlivened with a splash of sherry.
The New York strip and the filet mignon are both expertly rendered. Our one quibble with these plates is the obvious use of frozen green beans -- eminently skippable. The hand-cut shoestring fries and country mashed potatoes are much better accompaniments. Wines are grouped in user-friendly price brackets ($18, $27, $36).
M. Gettier, 505 S. Broadway, (410) 732-1151. $$$
All restaurants make mistakes. At M. Gettier they not only admit them, they make up for them. So on a busy night, when our order was lost and the meal delayed by 30 minutes, chef-owner Michael Gettier insisted on treating us to dinner.