What the kitchen does, it does well Restaurant: After 10 years, Bandaloops has become a pleasant fixture in Federal Hill.

April 06, 1997|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

When Bandaloops opened 10 years ago it was, as a restaurant critic said at the time, "maddeningly trendy." With its cute name taken from a Tom Robbins novel and dishes like "Chicken Bingo Pajama" and "Kama Sutra Strata," you had to wonder how this glorified fern bar would ever survive in Federal Hill, which has a certain tough practicality under that yuppie exterior.

But survive Bandaloops did, getting rid of most of the literary allusions and arch menu descriptions in the process. Even the food is a little more down to earth these days. You could say it's less imaginative, but it's what Baltimoreans seem to want in bar-restaurant cuisine: sandwiches, salads, a few daily specials -- most of it California-influenced and moderately priced. What the kitchen does, which isn't a lot, it does well.

In its 10 years, Bandaloops has settled down and become an established presence in Federal Hill. You don't hear much about it, but regulars know you can come here and get a good burger with green peppercorn mayonnaise or a meal-in-itself salad with the chef's own dressings. Touches like freshly baked muffins and unusual desserts made in the restaurant's kitchen set Bandaloops apart from other bar-restaurants. The staff is young and casual, but knows how to wait tables.

And Bandaloops has aged well physically. Long and narrow, with the dining room in back of the bar, it looks newly renovated. It still has its signature stained glass, parquet floor, hanging plants, dark wood paneling below the chair rail and local art for sale on the off-white walls.

As for the food, there are hits and misses here, but the misses aren't terrible and the hits are right on target. First courses on the regular menu are limited to soups and snacks (like a dip and a cheese board), but the night we dined there we could also get Cajun-style mushroom caps. They were stuffed with spicy minced andouille sausage and baked with a little cheese, which melted appealingly into the sausage. Excellent.

Not so excellent was the soup of the day, a sort of Maryland crab soup without the crab and with overcooked shrimp. A better starter was the house salad, made of fresh leaf lettuce, a few too many alfalfa sprouts, grated carrots, tomatoes and good house-made dressings.

The salad also comes with a burrito "Band"ito (OK, the menu isn't completely without cuteness), so you get a satisfying light meal for $7.75. Everything on the regular menu is well under $10.

The flour tortilla is filled with a pleasant combination of smoked turkey cubes, kidney beans, cheese and chorizo sausage, with salsa on top. If that sounds too adventuresome for you, have the chicken salad, made with all white meat, green grapes and almonds and tossed with a subtle tarragon mayonnaise. It comes with lots of greens, or you can have it stuffed in a pita.

Places that do casual food well don't always shine when it comes to more complicated dinners, but I had only one complaint about the special of the day, shrimp ratouille tournedos (although it was a fairly serious one). The two good fillets were almost raw, even though I had ordered them medium rare. You might mind more than I did, and you'd have a wait if you wanted them cooked further. (Each is topped with a fat shrimp and a red pepper and cream sauce, so the kitchen would have to start all over with fresh fillets.) Oh, well. The seasoned rice and fresh asparagus were both perfectly cooked.

House-made desserts like a fudgy chocolate cake with butterscotch-liqueur icing and a raspberry sour cream tart with a streusel topping are good, if a bit overwhelming. But if you've eaten as heartily as we did, I recommend the homemade ice cream of the day (actually made in someone's garage, our waiter told us). Sometimes the flavor is offbeat -- sticky bun ice cream, anyone? -- but this night it was a fine and simple vanilla.


Where: 1024 S. Charles St.

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday

Prices: Light fare, $4.95-$8.50; entrees $12-$18.25. Major credit cards

Call: 410-727-1355

Pub Date: 4/06/97

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