Following the chef to Rothwells Restaurant: Mark Hofmann has created a menu that aims to satisfy special- occasion customers as well as the drop-in crowd. The new Timonium establishment is a delight.

November 24, 1996|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Every once in awhile a restaurant opens up with such promise it makes a food critic's heart sing.

The new Rothwells is one of those.

Promise isn't perfection, so there are things to carp about -- a dinner served at room temperature here, a waiter undereducated in the food there. But when Rothwells is good, it's very, very good.

The loyal customers who followed Mark Hofmann when he left Due to open Rothwells must have been surprised at his new place. Due, sister restaurant to Linwood's, is known for its rustic chic and its casual but upscale northern Italian menu. But simply the fact that its former executive chef joined forces with Philip Forrester, the former owner of the Mexican restaurant Hacienda, suggested that Rothwells would be something quite different.

And it is.

First of all, the setting: The dining rooms of the former Palermo's Grill have been freshened up but not significantly altered. They are comfortable and pleasant, even pretty, but rather conventional.

You might, at first glance, think the menu is conventional, too. There's the half-pound hamburger, and the pizza, and a pasta or two. But look a little closer and you'll see that much of it is New American in the style of Linwood's.

Like any good chef, Hofmann is at home with various cuisines. With Rothwells, he has a delicate balancing act. He needs to satisfy his drop-in-for-supper neighborhood customers, so half the short menu is casual food -- most of it under $10. But he still wants to turn out imaginative dishes like a lamb special that had us standing up and cheering.

This was a butter-tender lamb steak grilled over wood so that it was charred outside and a juicy pink inside. Its pomegranate sauce was darkly intense and fragile, with just a faint fruitiness. With it came a creamy, seductive risotto studded with meltingly soft bites of acorn squash.

That same wood grill turns out superb free-form pizzas, with an incredibly thin, crisp, smoke-flavored crust. Another good casual-food choice is the salmon BLT. It had all the classic ingredients -- bacon, lettuce and tomato on toasted white bread -- but also an enormous fillet of salmon, cooked to moist perfection, with a fine basil and garlic mayonnaise. It came with ,, an agreeable rice salad and a fresh-tasting coleslaw.

You can start your meal with a classic, and delicious, black bean soup or a mesclun salad with julienne vegetables and a zingy Dijon vinaigrette. The verdict is still out on the fried oysters with a barbecue and beer sauce. I wasn't crazy about the barbecue flavor with the oysters, but maybe I'm too much of a purist.

Whatever you do, save room for the killer desserts.

The best of the best was an incredible apple tart, the sugary, buttery richness balanced by the apples' slight tartness and the wonderful vanilla ice cream touched with cinnamon.

Rothwells

Where: 106 W. Padonia Road, Timonium

Hours: Open Monday through Friday for lunch, every night for dinner

Prices: Appetizers: $3.25-$7.50; entrees: $8.95-$20.95; major credit cards

Call: (410) 252-0600

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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