A taste of luxury, less than luxe price Review: Brighton's in the Harbor Court is more modest than Hampton's

the food has ups and downs.

July 07, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Think of Brighton's as Baltimore's most expensive coffee shop. Or better still, think of it as Baltimore's most beautiful coffee shop.

It's like a morning room, with large windows facing east and walls painted a soft, sunny yellow. Flowers and foliage are everywhere -- in large arrangements, in little pots on each table, in the floral design of drapery fabric and in botanical prints. The tables are well spaced; the chairs very comfortable.

In any other hotel this would be a formal dining room, but not next to Hampton's, the Harbor Court Hotel's main restaurant. At Brighton's, guests eat in their polo shirts and bring an occasional child. Breakfast and lunch are served here. It's the closest thing, in other words, that the hotel has to a coffee shop.

Let's say you want a little taste of that luxury the main restaurant is famous for, but don't want to pay luxe prices. Head for Brighton's, which has new summer menus for both lunch and dinner, and a new chef, Dan Woods.

A fixed-price menu is offered each evening; the night I was there it consisted of soup, a stuffed chicken breast, dessert and coffee for $26.

The soup, a red pepper and tomato bisque, was a rosy puree garnished with a zigzag of cream. Alas, the tomato dominated the pepper; it reminded me of tinned tomato soups from childhood.

The boneless breast of chicken was juicy and flavorful, but its shiitake mushroom stuffing had been doused with pepper. The intense herb puree on the side was best in small doses.

What accompanied the chicken was better than the chicken itself: classic, fluffy mashed potatoes and a bouquet of perfectly cooked vegetables.

The prix-fixe dinner ended happily with fresh berries bathed in warm creme anglaise, the custard sauce lightly browned on top.

The rest of our meal had the same sort of ups and downs.

A duck leg confit appetizer was deliciously rich, but garnished with a tasteless purple potato salad.

Smoked salmon and tender-crisp asparagus were nestled in a puff pastry shell for a fine first course, with a delicate lemon beurre blanc. Unfortunately, the same sauce and the same puff pastry also appeared in my friend's main course, a sea scallop RTC tarte. (The scallops themselves were fresh-tasting and delicious.) Not exactly the crime of the century; but when you're spending about $50 a person, it's nice if the menu -- or the waiter -- points such things out.

Glazed tuna loin, requested medium rare, was cooked to the point where it had to be sent back. The second time around, though, it was beautifully charred outside and exactly the right degree of doneness inside. It came on a bed of mixed greens with basmati rice and a citrusy sauce reminiscent of the lemon beurre blanc. In fact, it also reminded me of the citrus butter that came with the fine lump crab cakes. Maybe it was just coincidence.

We had several terrific desserts, like a marquis cake with ricotta filling and chocolate shavings, and an elegant pecan tart. I shut my eyes and didn't even look at the prices.

But I should end by saying you don't have to order quite as extravagantly here as we did. There is a "lighter fare" (not light fare, mind you) menu that includes a Caesar salad, hamburger -- make that a Black Angus burger -- and tuna au poivre, all for under $15.

Brighton's

Where: Harbor Court Hotel, 550 Light St.

Hours: Open 6: 30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers, $5.75-$10; entrees, $16-$23.50. Accepts major credit cards

Call: (410) 234-0550

Pub Date: 7/07/96

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