Pierpoint, 1822 Aliceanna St., (410) 675-2080. Open Tuesdays to Fridays for lunch, Tuesdays to Sundays for dinner, brunch on Sundays. Major credit cards. Prices: appetizers, $5.95-$8.50; entrees, $15.50-$23.95. **1/2
Nancy Longo, owner and chef of Pierpoint in Fells Point, was cooking Mediterranean when Mediterranean wasn't cool. In fact, she was producing "fusion cuisine" long before combining ingredients and techniques from different countries became trendy. Hers is an intriguing amalgam of Maryland and Mediterranean fare.
It hasn't hurt this tiny restaurant-bar that what Ms. Longo has been doing for years has become so au courant. On a Thursday night every one of Pierpoint's closely spaced tables was filled, a tribute to the inventive menu, skilled kitchen and chic decor. But with everyone and his brother producing Mediterranean food, and more and more chefs feeling that any combination of cuisines is fair game, how does Pierpoint stack up to the competition? Now that what Nancy Longo is doing is no longer unique, do her meals seem as wonderful as they used to?
The answer is yes -- and no.
Understand that dinner at Pierpoint is a total experience, more so than at many restaurants. The long, narrow dining room has a kind of funky glamour, with its yellow sponge-painted walls, pale green banquettes, marble-topped tables and deco touches. In the front is a beautiful bar; in back is the tiny open kitchen. A nice mellow feeling steals over you, and you know this is going to be a good evening even before a glass of wine and basket of bread is placed before you.
OK, the sun-dried tomato bread was pretty overwhelming, with big chunks of intensely flavored, salty tomatoes. But the baguette was super. As good as it was, we were still tempted to order Renza's Bruschetta, a specialty made from potato bread dough. We did and it came to the table light as the proverbial feather, with a crisp crust, a pizzalike topping and lots of freshly grated Parmesan.
With it we didn't really need any other starter, but we tried the tapenade, a piquant spread made of tuna and olives with thin, garlicky toasts to put it on and a bed of mesclun greens. Excellent. But we raised a collective eyebrow at the pale, pre-season tomatoes.
You might begin with Pierpoint's justly famous smoked crab cake, with lumps of back fin that stand up well to the edge of smoke. We've tried it before and loved it, and it was just as good as ever it was. But this night the corn pancake on the side seemed a little dry, in spite of the tangy tartar sauce flavored with sorrel that accompanies the two.
You could start with the eggplant layer cake, with its layers of paper-thin eggplant, tomato sauce, caramelized onions and grated Parmesan. It's delicious, but it occurs to us that this is simply an upscale version of a childhood favorite, eggplant Parmesan.
Still, these are much better choices than a salad of greens topped with black beans, slivers of yellow squash, red onion, tomatoes and a balsamic vinaigrette -- ingredients put together seemingly at random that simply don't work as a salad.
On to the main courses. A pork loin chop was superb: huge, juicy and full of meaty flavor, grilled with a tinge of pink still remaining. (Our waitress checked first to make sure not cooking it to death was all right with us.) The pan gravy was as intensely flavorful as it was delicate. But as wonderful as the chop was, it suffered from the general brownness of the plate. Fried cakes of shredded apple and a vegetable-potato pancake both tasted fine, but the meal needs visual contrast and a vegetable that hasn't been sauteed.
No one could accuse the soft crab special of being monotonous. The crabs themselves were prettily crisp, fat and juicy; but the tomato remoulade sauce on top was so intensely tangy the delicate flavor of the crabs was lost. The accompanying corn relish was even more pungent. In comparison, the steamed broccoli and carrots, which had no trace of seasonings or butter, seemed tasteless.
lTC But only the fettuccine with Moroccan grilled chicken and a lemon-curry tomato sauce disappointed across-the-board. Moroccan chicken? Lemon-curry sauce? All we could taste was a lot of fettuccine and some pieces of what must have been chicken in a strong tomato sauce, which was certainly highly seasoned, but whether with lemon and curry we couldn't really tell.
So it was an off night for Pierpoint. (We've eaten here before and had great meals.) Homemade desserts help make up for any disappointment: perhaps a warm brownie with homemade praline ice cream, or a blueberry crumb pie. If the cakes and pies on the pastry tray don't appeal, try one of Pierpoint's house-made sorbets, with flavors like banana and cherry as well as the more usual strawberry.