A taste from days of real cream Review: Eager House takes diners back to the times when there was no such thing as food that was bad for you.

November 02, 1997|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

With the current craze for anything nostalgic, I suppose the opening of Baltimore's first retro restaurant was inevitable. I can't quite pinpoint which decade the new Eager House is harking back to; but its red-carpeted floors, its mirrored walls and its staid white-clothed tables are all reminiscent of a less frenetic era. If your heart lifts when they play "Begin the Beguine," this is the place you've been waiting for.

Remember the first time you went to a special occasion restaurant? The excitement of having steak Diane prepared at your table? Remember how suave you felt the first time you ordered frog legs Provencal?

Relive it all with a visit to the latest incarnation of the Eager House, which has opened and closed more times than Cole Porter had hits.

All you eaters-out who are sick of tall food, light fare, fusion cuisine, coriander, extra-virgin olive oil, exotic breads, tiramisu and a serious lack of heavy cream, head for the Eager House. Bring on the hollandaise. Bring on the oysters Rockefeller. Bring on the duck a l'orange flamed tableside. Bring on the bus that takes you to the Colts game after Sunday brunch.

Sorry. Make that the Ravens game.

Here you can get escargots prepared the way most people like them best -- as just an excuse for garlic-scented butter and flaky puff pastry. Hot, tender clams casino have the classic buttery topping (with a bit of ground almond thrown in for good measure). Plump oysters hold their own with their licorice-scented spinach topping. Bouillabaisse -- a variety of seafood, including lobster, in a rich broth -- is impressive. And it isn't too heavy for a first course.

Past our first courses, things were a bit more uneven. A slab of prime rib was huge and beautiful but cooked a little longer than the medium (pink) it was ordered. The maitre d' prepared the duck a l'orange with flair, but the duck tasted more braised than roasted and the sauce didn't have much character. The only out-and-out disaster, however, was the crab cakes. They didn't arrive with the rest of the entrees; and when much later the plate did come out of the kitchen, it held faux crab cakes: two mounds of crab imperial, made with lumps of crab and nicely seasoned, but not what we had ordered.

Happily, the sole with bananas and hollandaise, which the waiter freely admitted is the dish Tio Pepe made famous, had all the rich goodness of the original, with very fresh fish, very buttery hollandaise and soft, sweet bananas. Side dishes, too, were praiseworthy, with each person getting fresh steamed broccoli, cauliflower and baby carrots, plus two asparagus spears with hollandaise, and either a flavorful wild rice mixture or a fine stuffed potato.

This isn't food, clearly, for the faint of heart. So go ahead and order one of the several calorie-laden retro desserts, like the dense cheesecake with thick blueberry topping. I had my heart set on cherries jubilee, but, surprisingly, Eager House doesn't offer flambeed desserts -- at least it didn't the night we were there.

Two of us asked for one chocolate eclair and two forks. The kitchen kindly split it, put the halves on two plates, and decorated each half with its own whipped cream and chocolate shavings. That's what's wrong with the '90s, I decided then and there. Most of us simply aren't getting enough whipped cream.

Eager House

Where: 15 W. Eager St.

Hours: Open for dinner every night and Sunday brunch

Prices: Appetizers, $6.95-$8.95; entrees, $16.95-$49.95 (beef Wellington for two); major credit cards

Call: 410-547-8300

Pub Date: 11/02/97

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