Royal style that you can depend on

November 02, 1995|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Kings Contrivance has always been an exceptionally handsome restaurant. This is the restaurant I recommend when style is more important than substance. That's not to say there is no substance, but both food and service are more uneven than they should be. After all, dinner can easily cost around $50 a person.

The setting, however, you can count on.

The traditional rooms have an understated elegance, tastefully appointed and decorated this time of year with burgundy chrysanthemums in copper pots and miniature pumpkins. These are rooms to get engaged in, or the place to conclude an important business deal. Which is why the waiters shouldn't scrape plates in the dining room, and why plastic squeeze bottles of chocolate and raspberry sauces shouldn't be visible on the pretty dessert tray. Details, details.

If your beloved has just asked you to marry him, you probably won't care that baked oysters get lost in the shuffle when they're wrapped thickly in bacon and placed on a bed of sauteed watercress. You probably won't even notice that the seared duck breast is a bit tough and just a little fatty -- even though perfectly set off by the orange ginger sauce. And so what if the floating island tastes like yesterday's version?

Still, there is much to like about this amiable restaurant, starting with the good, fresh sesame-seed bread that arrived with our drinks.

A delicate cream of sweet red pepper soup was superb -- spicy and seductive with two slices of perfectly ripe avocado floating in it. A soft shell crab appetizer had more crisp batter than some would approve of, but its tangy sauce and bit of perfect cabbage slaw made it just about irresistible.

An enormous pork loin chop, juicy and snowy white inside, was set off beautifully by its mincemeat-like cranberry chutney. The cloud of garlicky mashed potatoes couldn't have been better.

I was less entranced by the salmon, a special that evening. It was fresh and properly cooked; but its crisp crust of potatoes and the tomato and sweet red pepper coulis, both good, dominated the fish.

We had mostly ordered from the seasonal menu, which I would describe as New American if I had to label it. The regular menu, however, leans to the northern Italian, with some pastas, risotto, veal piccata and the like. My guess is that whichever one you order from you're almost guaranteed a pleasant evening, even though the food doesn't always live up to the setting.

Kings Contrivance

10150 Shaker Drive

Columbia

(410) 995-0500

Hours: Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; for dinner Monday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m., Sunday, 4 p.m.-8 p.m.

Credit cards: Major credit cards

Prices: Appetizers, $4.50-$12; entrees, $18-$24.50

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