Service stumbles in trendy Sfuzzi

September 28, 1995|By ELIZABETH LARGE | ELIZABETH LARGE,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Why am I back at Sfuzzi, the trendy Italian bistro near the harbor, with a frozen Sfuzzi in one hand and a piece of focaccia in the other? It's not that I don't love focaccia; but I can barely keep up with the new trendy Italian bistros, let alone go back to the ones that have been around awhile.

But I've been meaning to go back ever since the Baltimore Sfuzzi (it's part of a national chain) decided earlier this year to lower its prices and make its menu more user-friendly. By that I had imagined they meant fewer portobello mushrooms, more eggplant parmigiana.

But no, there are portobello mushrooms all over this new menu. The only change I really notice is a lot more mashed potatoes. Wonderful potatoes, mashed with snippets of skin and perfumed with garlic.

But garlic mashed potatoes do not a trendy Italian bistro make. You have to have atmosphere, which Sfuzzi oozes: "ruined" frescoes superimposed on brick walls, potted palms, contemporary furniture and a chi-chi bar. You have to have spunky servers and pizzas with goat cheese and caramelized onions and fusilli with arugula. All of which Sfuzzi has.

What it no longer has is good service. The busboys sprint around the room filling glasses so wildly the water splashes on the tables. The waiter never comes and when he finally comes, he gets the orders wrong and forgets to bring me the glass of wine I ask for after one swallow of the peach-flavored frozen Sfuzzi. The food, which could be quite good, seems to have suffered from sitting under the warming lights for so long. My husband has to take our credit card to the cash register when we get tired of waiting for the check.

We should be understanding. Sfuzzi is clearly down a couple of servers this evening. I can afford to be understanding; The Sun is paying the $150 this bistro meal for four costs. Maybe you won't want to be.

What the poor service means is that one of the potentially best pizzas I've had around here, with freshly made mozzarella, wonderful tomato sauce and fragrant fresh basil, has a soggy crust from sitting too long. It means the calamari isn't as crisp as it should be. The Tuscan white bean and spinach soup is lukewarm.

But the best of our dishes still please us mightily. I love a salad of baby greens with tiny tender-crisp green beans, lightly grilled shrimp and a lemony dressing. Corkscrew pasta tossed with sweet sausage, grilled peppers and tomatoes, radiates hearty flavor. A citrusy sauce sets off the mixed seafood grill on fresh spinach leaves beautifully. And as for dessert, a cappuccino ice cream pie in a chocolate crust is satisfyingly rich, while fresh berries are available for those who want something light.

But don't get your hopes up if you like to end your meal with coffee: This is an Italian bistro where the espresso is as weak as dishwater.

Sfuzzi

100 E. Pratt St.

(410) 576-8500

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, noon-11 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

0$ Credit cards: Major credit cards

Prices: Appetizers, $3.65-$7.25; entrees, $9.95-$17.95

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