Cybercafe is more for bites than bytes Restaurant: At Cafe Pangea, the food is fine, the surroundings are chic and the computers are gathering dust.

September 07, 1997|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

The Cafe Pangea made news when it opened last summer because it was Baltimore's first Internet coffee and wine bar.

Hampden had never seen anything like it. The food, which played second fiddle to the computers, consisted of some Italian panini (sandwiches), a couple of salads, desserts from Vaccaro's.

A year later, the computers languish on top of carved mantels, untouched for the most part, while Cafe Pangea has become known for its good casual fare and hip surroundings.

Owner Buddy Wolfe is no fool. Enough of this cybercafe stuff. The computers may be gathering dust, but Cafe Pangea has a new young chef and a real dinner menu.

The chef is Richard Harris, a graduate of the Baltimore International Culinary College, who at one point worked at M. Gettier. He and Wolfe are still in the process of developing the menu, discovering what works and what doesn't for Cafe Pangea's clientele.

It may be that sandwiches will always be the best seller here. It's quite a switch for customers to start paying $15 for an entree. But judging from our dinner, the food is worth it.

Customers also have the pleasure of chic contemporary surroundings, a surprising contrast to the Victorian-gingerbread exterior of the white clapboard house. The dining room is all light wood, track lighting and art from La Terra, Buddy Wolfe's crafts store next door.

Note the wonderful detailing, from the crystal teardrop chandeliers to the spoon-art curtain rods to the fat, fresh rose on each table. Too bad more hasn't been done with the seating area on the wraparound porch, but this may change now that the weather has gotten more comfortable.

Cafe Pangea doesn't have much in the way of appetizers, but you could start with a homemade soup of the day, like the Italian wedding soup with a fine homemade broth, tender pasta and fresh greens. We also had a mesclun-mix salad with a good balsamic vinaigrette in two versions: one with Gorgonzola cheese, yellow raisins and walnuts; the other with feta, kalamata olives and plum tomatoes. Both were fine.

The dinner menu is quite limited, usually four entrees and two sandwiches; we liked everything we tried. A fat beef fillet, full of meaty flavor and cooked rosy rare as ordered, towered over a crisp round of toast. Decorating its plate were excellent mashed potatoes and thin curls of zucchini.

Curried crab is apparently a staple at Cafe Pangea, and deservedly so. Not for the faint of heart or watcher of calories, the dish consisted of lumps of crab meat baked in a rich, creamy sauce just touched with exotic spices. A small green salad was served on the side.

Baby coho salmon, fresh and cooked just long enough, had a crust of sliced potatoes and a zingy watercress sauce drizzled on top. The friend who ordered it wasn't happy that the skin was still on, but it helped keep the fish moist.

Cafe Pangea has various desserts, each richer than the last, like a chocolate turtle tart made with cashews, and a banana cake iced with thick chocolate. Both were good. Still, it would be nice to have at least one lighter choice.

The people connected with Cafe Pangea are extremely pleasant, but there's no getting around the fact that the wait staff has a laid-back attitude. It's just right for a coffee bar but not for a restaurant where entrees average $15. If Cafe Pangea plans to move into the big leagues, the service needs to be more polished. Especially when you consider that a 20 percent tip is automatically added to checks for parties of six or more.

Cafe Pangea

Where: 4007 Falls Road

Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner

Prices: Entrees vary from week to week, $8-$19; major credit cards

Call: 410-662-0500

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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