An old friend enters the '90s

November 23, 1995|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

With the new Phillips that's just opened in the White Marsh Mall, Maryland's favorite seafood chain has entered the '90s.

You loved it in Ocean City for its crab cakes. You dismembered hard shells in the location at Harborplace. Now at the new Phillips Seafood Grill you can get wood-grilled tuna and garlic mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables. The cappuccino machine will be in soon. Wine is served in generously sized glasses, and there are a number of haute beers available. And the old Sir Walter Raleigh dining rooms have been decorated to the nines -- who ever thought Phillips could be so chic?

But maybe you're the kind of person who's nostalgic about the seashore crab house of your youth, who doesn't want a trendy Phillips. Good news: traditional crab imperial is still on the menu, as alluring as you'll find anywhere, with big lumps of snowy crab. True, it's in a boat of puff pastry for some reason; but who can complain about large amounts of buttery, flaky puff pastry?

The Maryland crab soup has crab and a personality of its own, not just a lot of tired vegetables doused with Old Bay.

Oysters Rockefeller are fat and briny, with fresh spinach and a discreet sauce of cream and cheese.

Desserts are homemade, old-fashioned and appropriately rich, from the strawberry shortcake to the creamy cheesecake.

Best of all, the waitress is as homey and comfortable (and efficient) as you'd ever hope to find in an old-fashioned seafood house.

So much is done well here that the failures are a shock. The tuna, salmon and swordfish grilled over the wood fire are unremarkable. The fish isn't quite fresh enough, and it's cooked until quite dry with no sauce of any sort to disguise its condition.

A shrimp and lobster marsala dish, highly recommended by the waitress, features shellfish that's too mushy to eat. The garlic mashed potatoes are almost slimy, flavored with too much raw garlic.

The crab cake miniatures, a first course, are quite greasy.

But all is not lost in the gentrification of Phillips. The roasted vegetables, which include sweet red peppers, onions, squash and carrots, are excellent; and the baby red potatoes aren't bad either.

Another plus: While the seafood dinners are quite expensive for a mall eatery, Phillips also offers plenty of sandwiches and salads for under $10. There's also a kid's menu.

Phillips Seafood Grill

White Marsh Mall

8200 Perry Hall Blvd.

(410) 931-0077

Open every day at 11 a.m., until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, until 8:30 p.m. Sunday

Major credit cards

F: Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-$9.95; entrees, $9.95-$25.95

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