Dreams are made at cafes like this Restaurant: Stone Mill Bakery and Ecole serves sophisticated, six-course dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings.

March 23, 1997|By Laura Rottenberg | Laura Rottenberg,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On their worst days at work, everyone I know fantasizes about chucking it all and opening a little restaurant/cafe/bistro. Maybe it says something about the people I know, but -- venture capitalist, crane operator or stay-at-home mom -- they're all thinking things like, "It would have Shaker chairs, and we'd serve those biscuits that Aunt Gladys makes."

Stone Mill Bakery and Ecole is the restaurant I open in my dreams. By day, it's a thriving little bakery and cafe, turning out Baltimore's best rosemary boules, skinny walnut-raisin ficelles and semolina breads. On Friday and Saturday evenings, however, it is transformed into the area's most intimate and sophisticated restaurant, offering a six-course, prix-fixe limited menu of elegant and unfussy French-inspired dishes.

Years ago, owner Billy Himmelrich did have a very bad day of work on Wall Street (remember Black Monday, anyone?), and chucked it all. He apprenticed at Bouley and Menage Trois in New York; studied at La Varenne and Ecole de Gastronomie Francaise Ritz-Escoffier in France; and apprenticed again in France with Marc Meneau, Georges Blanc and Bernard Loiseau (all big guns in the world of gastronomy). Then he came back stateside and opened a handful of bakery/cafes: one in Mount Washington, the Green Spring Station location and, most recently, in Roland Park.

The dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings were born of the cooking classes Himmelrich began offering some years back, thus the name "ecole" (school in French). While the meal is no longer prepared by enthusiastic amateurs, there remains an unpretentious charm about the place.

You are greeted warmly at the door, where someone will take your coat and your wine (bring your own bottle -- a Burgundy, white or red, or a supple California pinot noir is a good match for much of the food). Then you traipse past the open kitchen before settling into one of the handful of tables in the little dining room.

On our recent visit, the meal began with a couple of canapes to get us in the mood: gougere (profiterole pastry) filled with goat cheese and sweet corn, and grilled baguette slices spread with delicious salt-cod paste (described as "brandade de morue" so as not to scare anyone off).

First-course choices were a silky Maine lobster bisque, slices of roasted duck breast on a bed of sauteed savoy cabbage and a dish of pan-seared foie gras. All three were lovely, and the foie gras, so often served with sweet sauces, was satisfying on a bed of savory lentil stew.

The main courses are often served with the same accompaniments. This doesn't mean steam-table vegetable medley or generic rice pilaf, however. On this visit, we received glazed carrots redolent of clove and cinnamon, buttery real mashed potatoes and perfectly cooked peeled stalks of asparagus.

From the four entree choices we selected two. Our favorite was the Chilean sea bass meuniere (simply seasoned fish, dusted with flour and sauteed in butter), served on a delicate leek and potato pancake. The plush Australian free-range lamb napped in a red wine sauce was a close second.

After dinner, cleanse your palate with a simple green salad before choosing dessert. Chocolate creme brulee is almost always on the list of offerings, and for good reason, but our top PTC choice was ripe strawberry slices served with a ball of intense chocolate sorbet. Even more decadent was a raspberry bread pudding that had creme anglaise drizzled over sweet bread and fresh raspberries.

I'd like to have another cup of Stone Mill's strong coffee, nibble the little madeleines offered at the end of the meal and fantasize about chucking it all.

Stone Mill Bakery and Ecole

Where: Green Spring Station, 10751 Falls Road, Lutherville

Hours: Open Friday and Saturday for dinner

Prices: Prix fixe $32.50 per person, excluding tax and tip. Major credit cards

Call: 410-821-1358

Pub Date: 3/23/97

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