Glitches can mar a good meal

April 18, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Here we are at Gibby's, three well-dressed adults, being led through so many dining rooms we'll need a trail of bread crumbs to find our way back. This is my first visit to Timonium's popular seafood restaurant, and I had no idea from the outside how large it is.

I look around as we're seated and I suddenly realize we've been put in the room with the families -- perhaps because we asked for nonsmoking. We aren't thrilled. Nothing against kids, but when you're about to spend as much money as we are, you feel like being with the adults. Still, we have our chance to ask to be moved and don't take it, so it's hardly the hostess' fault.

What is the hostess's fault is that 15 minutes later she seats a party of 15 next to us, half of them under the age of 5, even though the dining room has plenty of empty tables. Not a crime, just a little thoughtless on her part. The adults in their party are picking crabs and shouting to be heard over the kids who are shouting -- when they aren't running around near our table. We're drinking our chardonnay and eating pompano in a lime beurre blanc (and doing our own fair share of shouting over the noise). The problem is that this is a restaurant with a split personality, both family-oriented and fairly formal (at least in the kind of food and prices). The two don't always work well together.

I'm too distracted to fully enjoy the delicate pompano "scallops" with their good topping of shrimp, crab meat, chopped fresh tomatoes and citrus-sparked butter. I don't give the fabulous red sweet pepper soup, creamy and filled with lump crabmeat, the attention it deserves.

But since we can't really talk, I finally settle down and concentrate on a juicy whole lobster which would be even better without its huge mound of crab imperial: It's almost too rich, what with the melted butter and lots of mayonnaise.

A more modest choice is the crab cake, with the same good lump crab meat. It and all the dinners come with two vegetables or a vegetable and a salad. The vegetable of the day is a "spring mix"; the kitchen gives me the zucchini and tomatoes and my friend, the onions and tomatoes. The baked potato comes wrapped in foil, the salads have seen better days, and the cole slaw is only fair.

That's OK, we've filled up on our first courses. An excellent mix of steamed seafood features meltingly tender oysters, plump little clams, mussels and shrimp. In Gibby's version of oysters Rockefeller, those same good oysters come with a blanket of spinach and cheese -- I like them better on their own.

This is a restaurant that has its little quirks. Soon after we sit down, the waitress puts something wrapped in a napkin on the table. It turns out to be two little baguettes. (Did the kitchen run out of bread baskets?) They are very good baguettes, except that someone has sprinkled sugar on them.

And then there is the matter of dessert. The waitress brings the tray around and we make several appropriately naughty selections, including mousse in a chocolate tulip cup. When she returns with our choices, she says without batting an eye, "I see the chef has put raspberries instead of mousse in the chocolate tulip cup. I hope that's all right."

Now I personally would just as soon have fresh raspberries, but you'd expect her to mention the substitution in advance, not present it as a fait accompli. (Especially since, when the check arrives, I see it costs $4.50.) Ah well, we end up eating them all, so we can hardly complain.

Pub Date: 4/18/96

Gibby's

22 W. Padonia Road, Timonium

(410) 560-0703

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (kitchen), 2 a.m. (lounge); Sunday noon-10 p.m.

Major credit cards

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Prices: Appetizers, $1.95-$9.95; entrees, $11.95-$36.95.

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