Options on menu add taste of today Restaurant: The Harryman House sheds its old-fashioned reputation with broad choices and modern style.

September 15, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

You could call the Harryman House old-fashioned. After all, the log cabin that forms part of the restaurant is 200 years old. And the kitchen has never had a reputation for producing cutting-edge food. Good but traditional. Dependable but not exciting. That's the Harryman House.

Only it's not. Start with the changing looks of the place. In 1993 the restaurant was heavily damaged by fire. It was rebuilt within a few months; but since then there have been additions, the latest finished just a few weeks ago. If you want lots of action, stop by the new bar.

There are a couple of small dining rooms near it, but when the bar is in full swing, I wouldn't recommend them. The noise level is deafening.

Instead, make your way back to the original log cabin room or the enclosed porch surrounding it. Here, for a complete change of pace, families and serious eaters are conversing quietly. It's a pleasant room, with a sense of history, but it's not fancy except for the white linen and candles on the tables.

What makes the Harryman House seem really up to date is the menu. Not that there's a lot of over-the-top food on it, but the concepts are Now.

Trendy menu concept No. 1: Appetizers that are expensive compared to the entrees but that really function as small meals in themselves. (And are, therefore, inexpensive dinners.)

Take the slices of grilled duck breast, with undertones of honey and orange. They are placed while still warm on a bed of mixed greens, while fresh raspberries point up the raspberry vinaigrette of the greens.

This was my favorite of the more-than-appetizers we tried, but I also enjoyed the smoky flavor of the trout cake, which comes with a green salad on the side, where you might expect a sprig of parsley.

Less successful was a goat cheese and Vidalia onion tart, warm and puffy but a bit too sweet to be a first course.

Trendy menu concept No. 2: As many salads, sandwiches and such as haute cuisine dinners. Who woulda thunk it -- nachos deluxe on the same menu as glazed salmon with a thyme-honey infusion.

I was tempted by a filet mignon sandwich smothered in mushrooms and onions; but the yellow corn salmon burger with pineapple-tomatillo chutney and sweet potato fries sounded more intriguing. Alas, the fries were great, but the salmon burger was pretty forgettable.

Not so the gorgeous shrimp chartreuse, the perfectly cooked crustaceans piled high with grilled eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes, with a lovely buttery sauce and sprigs of fresh rosemary. It's an example of trendy menu concept No. 3: Food that is at once elegant, fresh, light and not over-fussed with.

But when dessert rolls around, forget trends. Forget fresh and light and indulge in ripe bananas sauteed in butter and brown sugar over ice cream -- the Harryman House's version of bananas Foster.

Or the dainty individual chocolate bundt cake, which has a healthy slug of molten chocolate at its center. But if you must have something light, it's hard to beat the cloudlike chiffon Key lime pie.

Harryman House

Where: 340 Main St., Reisterstown

Hours: Open every day for lunch and dinner

Prices: Dinner prices: appetizers, $5.75-$10; sandwiches, $6.25- $10.75; entrees, $14-$24. Major credit cards

$ Call: (410) 833-8850

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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