There's more here than meets the mouth Restaurant: The Russian Tea Room's dishes turn out to be mostly French, but why quibble? Relax, take in the decorations, enjoy the music and dance the night away.

February 16, 1997|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Some restaurants live or die by their food. But no Russian restaurant I've ever eaten at does (judging, I must admit, from a limited experience at a couple of restaurants around here and on a trip to Moscow and Leningrad many years ago).

You have to look beyond petty concerns like whether the fish is over-sauced and ask if you're having a good time. Have you drunk enough? Are people dancing on the tables to the live music?

OK, OK, that last is a bit of an exaggeration; but if you get more than bad French food, you're ahead of the game.

By that standard, you're ahead of the game at the new Russian Tea Room. First of all, the dining room itself will amaze you. It looks like the setting for a wedding reception -- a pale pink confection of a dining room, from the pastel swags and draperies to the beribboned bouquets at each table.

And there's live music, both keyboard and violin. This makes the interminable waits between courses more than bearable. Dancers, take note: There's a fine dance floor just for you.

On to the food. Once the waitress tells you the kitchen is out of the sturgeon, what's left is more French than Russian. But there is a fine borscht, with a good balance of vegetables.

Blinis the size of butter plates come with only a smidgen of black caviar; but they are hot, soft and freshly made. Excellent.

Salmon coulibiac "Moscovite style" is a pretty presentation of fish wrapped in a fish-shaped pastry crust, even if the dish is a bit dry.

Best of all are lamb chops, pink and flavorful little bites with sauteed mushrooms and a dark, vivid wine sauce.

For dessert there are only two choices, a pineapple cheesecake and a chocolate mousse cake, but both are fresh and quite good. The cheesecake has fresh pineapple on top.

Venture further than this at your peril. A smoked salmon plate came with cream cheese sandwiches made with stale bread. Veal cordon bleu was a fried square of almost unrecognizable meat. The shrimp that stuffed boneless chicken breasts weren't as fresh as they should have been.

Coffee at the end of your meal is an eye-opener. The waitress brings a silver coffee service on a silver tray, with a separate silver pot for tea water. Take the lid off one silver bowl and there are packets of sugar and sugar substitute. Take the lid off another and there are little containers of cream. Alas, when I opened one up and poured the cream into my tea, it curdled

instantly. Still, I loved the presentation of it all.

Russian Tea Room

Where: 37 S. Charles St.

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

Prices: Appetizers, $6-$12; entrees, $16-$21. Major credit cards

Call: (410) 385-0902

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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