A French Restaurant Of The Old School

DINING OUT

April 09, 1995|By ELIZABETH LARGE

Restaurant 2110, 2110 N. Charles St., (410) 528-1655. D, MC, V. Open for lunch and dinner Mondays to Fridays, dinner only Saturdays and Sundays. Prices: appetizers, $3.95-$6.95; entrees, $15.50-$21.95. **1/2

When we last heard from Benny Gordon on the subject of his small French restaurant, I had just learned by chance that the telephone at 2110 had been disconnected. That was last September. I called him at Benny's, his jazz club, and asked what his plans were for the space. "I might sell it, I might not," he told me. "I might reopen, I might not."

To me, that meant only one thing: 2110 was history.

So it was with considerable surprise that I learned -- by chance -- that Mr. Gordon had reopened his restaurant the week before Christmas.

You might think there would be a Grand Reopening or some kind of fanfare. After all, the place had its regulars and loyal followers. But no. It seems to be just quietly going along the way it did before it closed for three months.

When I ate there recently, I was surprised that nothing much seemed to have changed. If any renovation had been done, you couldn't tell it from the dining room. It's still small, cozy and charming, with the same flowery wallpaper I remember, lots of white napery and sparkling glassware, and a small bunch of spring flowers on each table. The lighting is romantically low -- OK, it's dark -- and a faux fire crackles engagingly in the faux

fireplace.

But certainly the menu has changed, right? Hadn't Mr. Gordon himself told me that 2110 would offer more vegetarian dishes, more heart-healthy fare? No, I don't think anything is different about the menu since I ate there a year ago -- not even the prices. This is traditional French cuisine, with lots of meat and cream and butter. Pates are made of duck liver, not vegetables. Garnishes are elaborate, along the lines of a rose carved from a tomato.

Here and there, along with the coquilles St. Jacques and such, you may find that a bit of Cajun has crept in. The soup of the day, for instance, was Cajun with crab. This was a rich broth, highly spiced, with bits of vegetables and handsome lumps of crab. Too bad it was so sweet.

Restaurant 2110's escargots are simply an excuse for eating tiny puff pastry shells, buttery and crisp, and lots of a silky garlic and butter sauce. That was fine with me.

The pate du jour was a silky smooth duck liver mousse, presented with crisp toast and cornichons. If you aren't feeling up to one of the rich, elaborate entrees, you might have the pate with a salad. They're the meal-in-themselves variety. Our spinach salad was huge, with bacon, mushrooms, wedges of hard-boiled egg, pale hothouse tomatoes and a hot sweet-sour dressing.

About a quarter of the entrees are veal dishes. Our waiter recommended the veal Normand, with delicate scallops of pale veal, paper-thin slices of apple arranged on top and a lake of brandy cream. It's a bit sweet and very rich; but when you feel like indulging yourself, it might be just the thing.

Every French restaurant needs a bit of tableside cooking done with flair. At 2110, you get it with the canard aux framboises, duck with raspberries. When the waiter asked my guest how she liked her duck done, he must have been unnerved when she said "medium rare." I can't imagine why he even asked: After all, the duck half had come to the tableside fully cooked -- well-done almost to the point of falling off the bone, with a nice, crisp skin. (It's a bit old-fashioned, but I liked it.) I had to admire the waiter for not batting an eye. He just flambeed it with Cointreau and presented it prettily arranged with fresh raspberries.

Only the shrimp in whiskey sauce didn't appeal at all, with its mound of overcooked angel-hair pasta, medium-sized shrimp and cream sauce heavily seasoned with shallots and unidentifiable herbs.

Restaurant 2110 bills itself as a country French restaurant, but about the only thing country about it is the plate of vegetables that everyone shares, well, country style. Otherwise it's a French restaurant of the old school: rich, special-occasion food.

There's certainly nothing wrong with that, but I think the kitchen is capable of more. Once when I ate there, a guest asked for a vegetable plate, and it was the best thing we ordered: fresh vegetables properly prepared and arranged artistically. Much as love butter and cream, it would be nice to have a few more choices.

And certainly Restaurant 2110 could come up with better desserts. The selection that evening was a Creamsicle cheesecake, a white chocolate mousse and strawberries in vanilla sauce. The Creamsicle cheesecake did indeed taste like a Creamsicle, those intensely artificial orange ice cream bars we ate as children. But is that what you want a French restaurant dessert to taste like? The white chocolate mousse had seen better days: It was gummy and tasteless. And the strawberries were crunchy, while the vanilla sauce had no vanilla flavor at all.

Next: Ocean Pride

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