Mostly fine seafood as doors reopen Restaurant: The newly renovated Rusty Scupper downtown offers locals as well as tourists a handsome setting and generally fine seafood dishes, but some menu choices are best left unmade.

SUNDAY GOURMET

July 21, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

The renovated and recently reopened Rusty Scupper is Baltimore's newest tourist attraction. It's for all those visitors to the city who want to eat seafood by the water, and don't much care about crowds or cost. But can those of us who live here year round find happiness (or at least a good crab cake) at the new Rusty Scupper?

The answer is a qualified yes.

First of all, the renovations are wonderful. I've always liked this contemporary space, with its levels and angles, glass, gleaming wood and exposed ductwork.

The view of the harbor is great from almost any table, and because the tables are on various levels you don't realize what a food factory the Rusty Scupper really is.

The firm of Johnson/Berman has added comfortable seating, touches of aqua and coral (that's as close as you can get to describing the colors in water terms), handsome carpeting to keep noise levels down, and charming contemporary lighting that glows gently as dusk falls.

Everything looks fresh and new.

The table settings are clean-lined, simple and handsome. About the only thing I don't like is the salad and dessert plates, which are shaped like bed pans.

Seafood report

But we're here for the seafood, and much of it is excellent. There are some notable exceptions, but more about them later.

A spicy seafood gumbo is as flavorful as I've ever had, although it arrives at room temperature long before anyone else's first course. Crisply fried calamari served with a remoulade rather than cocktail sauce is a pleasing variation on a standard.

The crab cakes are gently seasoned and full of lump crab meat.

The salmon filet sits invitingly on a cedar plank, beautifully fresh and perfectly cooked. We're surprised that it has a spicy teriyaki sauce, because that isn't mentioned on the menu, but it works well with the fish. (Snow peas, red pepper strips and little new potatoes make an attractive border on the plank.)

"Newburg Pie," a Scupper specialty, doesn't contain as much seafood as I expected; but the creamy sauce with a touch of brandy is terrific, and the puff pastry on top adds to the decadence. Large shrimp skewered with vegetables are also delicious, with a fine smoky flavor, and are probably more healthful. But when you're in the mood for cream and puff pastry

What you want to avoid here are the "Oysters on the James," three fat oysters that are weighted down with ham and a thick blanket of melted Cheddar.

Stuffed clams taste like chopped rubber bands baked with bread crumbs. The french fries that come with the crab cakes are fish-belly white, while the cole slaw is sweet enough for dessert.

Tart to sweet

Speaking of which, save room for a slice of tart Key lime pie, or Toll House pie, which tastes like warm chocolate chip cookie dough in a pie shell.

Or my favorite: a rich bread pudding with sun-dried cherries, apples and a bourbon sauce that the waitress pours on at the table.

Speaking of our waitress, it's like having a fourth guest at the table (except my friends don't call me "sweetie" or address a group of middle-aged women as "girls"). But she doesn't hesitate to jump right into any conversation we happen to be having while she's serving our food. Disconcerting, to say the least. Still, she gets the food on the table and is good-natured about it -- something you don't always find, even in the best of restaurants.

Rusty Scupper

Where: Inner Harbor Marina, 402 Key Highway

Hours: Open Monday through Saturday, 11: 30 a.m.-3: 00 p.m. for lunch; Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. for dinner; Friday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Saturday 4 p.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, noon-10 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers, $4.75-$8.50; entrees, $13.95-$39.95. Major credit cards accepted.

Call: (410) 727-3678

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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