Appetizers of chicken "drummies" and onion rings were not exciting, but side dishes of beans and coleslaw were above average. Our desserts -- apple crumb cobbler and Key lime pie -- were nothing special.
Memo to manager: Please ask the staff to inquire about whether patrons want coffee or dessert before delivering the bill.--PJ
Ruth's Chris Steak House, 600 Water St., (410) 783-0033. ***1/2 $$$$
At Ruth's Chris, you eat steak. You drink wine. You order dessert -- and it's not sorbet. Perhaps that explains why this swank supper-clubby spot is so dark. You are about to sin, and it's easier if the lights are low.
But open your eyes as you dig into the much-advertised filet mignon. It's as seductive on the plate as it is in pictures -- huge, incredibly tender and rosy pink. Although the menu is a carnivore's delight, the seafood here is also praiseworthy, particularly the robust seafood gumbo and the broiled swordfish topped with jumbo shrimp.
We did find a few flaws with our meal. The mushroom caps with crab meat were woefully skimpy on crab, and the mashed potatoes came out starchy and bland.
Whatever you do, save room for bananas Foster. Prepared for two at tableside, it's a perfectly decadent ending to a shoot-the-moon kind of meal.--MC
Sabatino's, 901 Fawn St., (410) 727-9414. ** $$$
There's no risk in ordering Sabatino's Bookmaker Salad -- it's a sure bet. For one thing, there's a lot of it. Plus, it's colorful -- black olives, green olives, pepperoncini, iceberg lettuce, red onions, red cabbage, tomatoes, radishes, salami, pink shrimp and the yellows of egg yolk and cheese. Also, it has all those textures, and enough creamy sweet richness to melt even a bookie's heart.
But after the salad our luck shifted here. We picked at dull fried calamari, served with a big bowl of conventional tomato sauce. We enjoyed the garlic bread, but ate little of a frutti di mare -- mussels, cardboard lobster, clams, calamari -- or of a stridently salty veal a la Beppi -- veal medallions with mushroom caps.
Desserts here are from Vaccaro's. Though they don't surprise and aren't dazzling, they are always fresh, and in taste and pleasure repay the investment. We almost licked our tiramisu and cannoli dishes but didn't want to embarrass our attentive waitress.--JB
Samos, 600 S. Oldham St., (410) 675-5292. *** $
An authentic Greek dinner for two at less than $20? Yes, it could happen to you at this tiny, humbly decorated restaurant in Baltimore's Greektown.
Don't come here and not try the chicken souvlaki -- it's a specialty. A garlicky marinated chicken breast, it's grilled and served in a hot pita with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber sauce). Heavenly.
Start your meal with an appetizer like the tasty Greek sausage, sliced and served with feta, tomatoes and grilled peppers and onions. The dolmas, stuffed grape leaves, are among the best I have sampled. The spinach pie is also quite good, served piping hot and with its delicate phyllo crust properly browned.
Our friendly waitress informed us that the baklava was not home-made and it tasted so. For those who like rice pudding, Samos' creamy version is exceptional.--PJ
Savannah, 888 S. Broadway, (410) 522-2195. **** $$$
Chef Cindy Wolf's signature dish is unique and brilliant. Go straight to Savannah for "heads-on Gulf shrimp sauteed with Andouille sausage and Tasso ham, served on creamy stonemilled grits." The shrimp may take some getting used to. They're salty and a little soft. What's extraordinary are the fresh grits, which in Wolf's hands taste creamy and rich, and are superb at absorbing other flavors like sausage and ham.
Ah, but is anything at Savannah less than fine? We loved the crisp, buttery breads, a great soft-shell crab, delicious spicy bean cakes paired with dressed cubes of tomato, and superb quail, served with cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes, ham and a bourbon sauce.
Desserts were fantasy material: a delicate, intensely chocolate, chocolate cake served with port-macerated raspberries, and a chocolate and praline napoleon made of tuiles. We found our waiter a bother -- much too talky, much too personal -- but when I eat this well, waiters' ways don't matter a lot.--JB
Sisson's Brew Pub, 36 E. Cross St., (410) 539-2093. **1/2 $$1/2
America's love affair with Cajun cooking has spawned enough badly "blackened" food to give New Orleans a black eye. But Sisson's has mastered blackened redfish -- its signature dish. Instead of coating the fillet with a thick layer of herbs and spices, the chef dredges it in just the right combination to let it cook up crisp and spicy. We found it perfect with a pint of the microbrewery's dark Duxford ale.