Funky charm in Fells Point Restaurant: At Tapestry, interesting food, the world's greatest mashed potatoes and generous appetizers save the day.

December 14, 1997|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

In many ways Tapestry -- formerly Tomcat Alley -- is very much like other Fells Point restaurants. The setting, particularly the bar, has lots of funky charm. (In fact, after this review, critics should be banned from ever using that phrase to describe a Fells Point bar-restaurant again.) The narrow dining room is appealing, although it won't sound like it when I describe the color scheme as acorn-squash yellow and dark green.

On a Sunday night, with every table taken, there's one waiter and one cook. "We didn't think it would be this busy," our waiter tells us. Dishes aren't removed unless we pile them on one corner to show that we're finished with them. Water glasses remain unfilled.

The hostess sees nothing wrong with spraying ammonia-scented window cleaner on the glass-topped table next to us.

Only one dessert is available this night because last night they sold out.

You can't get any tea, hot or iced.

None of this really bothers us, because it's part of the appeal of eating in Fells Point. Charming. But funky.

Of course, the corollary of charming and funky is interesting and reasonably priced food. That's why we get grumpier as we read the front of the menu, where appetizers average $9 and the two salads are $7 and $6. At those prices, you want haute cuisine and pampering service. Flip to the other side of the menu, and we see that the entrees cost, on average, $19.

Three things save the day. First, the food is interesting and pretty good. Second, Tapestry serves the world's greatest mashed potatoes, something not to be taken lightly. Third, the appetizers really function as small meals. So, for instance, you can get chef Brigitte Bledsoe's signature first course, a Creole crab cake, which is fat with lump crab meat and has a fiery remoulade sauce and enough vegetable garnishes to qualify as supper.

A Middle Eastern plate with warm miniature pitas, a fine hummus and a zippily seasoned eggplant dip comes with couscous and various salad-like garnishes. A first course for four to share.

Plump, unusually grit-free mussels are bathed in a saffron-scented sauce made with white wine, butter and a bit of fresh corn and tomatoes. Delicious, especially with rosemary-flavored bread to dip in the sauce.

Salads are filling -- huge bowls that two could happily share. Ours was made with mesclun greens, strips of roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, pine nuts, shavings of Parmesan and a smooth balsamic vinaigrette.

If that isn't enough food for you, order the boneless chicken breast stuffed with lobster covered in a fine, thick mushroom gravy labeled "morel sauce" on the menu. It comes with those great whipped potatoes, mashed with some of their skin, and tender asparagus spears.

If you're feeling adventuresome, have the pan-fried alligator tail, which supposedly tastes like chicken but doesn't really. (The flavor is mild and unlike anything else.) It's lavishly treated with roasted red pepper, slices of Andouille sausage and lumps of crab.

Our other two entrees don't live up to the rest of our meal. Tuna encrusted with black and white sesame seeds comes medium rare, as our waiter warned us. But I'm not sure my guest has really thought about just how rare that is. Because the fish is notably fresh, it doesn't bother me. What does bother me is a wasabi sauce so fiery it has to be avoided except in tiny doses -- and is almost impossible to avoid.

I'm also not thrilled with the smoked mozzarella ravioli. The smoky cheese overwhelms the other flavors; and the ravioli, its ,, bed of spinach and the tomato sauce are scrunched onto a small plate. It's a notable contrast to the lavish treatments our other three dinners receive.

We can end with any dessert we want as long as it's the pretty, and good, passion fruit mousse-and-cake concoction. Luckily, it would be my first choice for dessert -- if there were any choice.

Tapestry

Where: 1705 Aliceanna St., Fells Point

Hours: Open Tuesday through Friday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon to 10 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers, $7-$12; entrees, $15-$22; major credit cards

Call: 410-327-7037

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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