Cozy and warm as soup made from scratch

January 15, 1998|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On a cold winter's day, there's nothing like a good bowl of soup made from scratch. Add some interesting bread and cozy surroundings and it's even better.

At Ethel & Ramone's in Mount Washington, five varieties of soup are made daily. On a recent visit, we tried a fresh-tasting tomato with sauteed curls of fennel, a smooth pumpkin made with butter and cream, and a souplike vegetarian chili with three kinds of beans. We were warmed and happy, especially when we discovered our bread basket contained perfect crusty slices, some with sunflower seeds, some with olives.

It was a good thing we like soup, because it was the only appetizer on the menu the night we visited -- a hectic evening at the restaurant. I found out afterward the reason why: Owner Jeff Berkow was at the airport with his wife and partner, Jane, returning from a vacation; his son, chef and other partner, Sanne, was home with his newborn child; and one of Berkow's waitresses was managing things in the kitchen.

It's a testament to this little restaurant that we had a fine meal, despite the fact that we received its old, limited menu instead of its new one. What you'll find on a less hectic night are terrific salads, a few chicken and vegetarian entrees, and a lot of pasta dishes, from shrimp scampi to fettuccine portobella with an herbed wine and goat cheese sauce.

If the food has a Californian-Italian personality, the decor is more old-fashioned Baltimore-British. Sitting at one of the three downstairs tables is like eating in someone's front parlor, an effect heightened by the floral wallpaper, lace curtains and antique wedding portrait of a fictitious Ethel and Ramone hanging on the wall. There are more tables upstairs, but with painted paneling and industrial carpet, the atmosphere is not nearly as warm.

Since the same specials were served for lunch and dinner, many of them were sold out by the time we arrived. One appetizer special that was still available was the bruschetta, made with salsa, mozzarella, Parmesan and olive tapenade for a pungent twist.

For dinner, a delicate, layered torta nova came with a side salad of mesclun and romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomato and slivered zucchini. Inside the torta were bits of Yukon gold potatoes and leeks, ricotta and Gouda cheeses and flakes of smoked salmon. It was an unusual entree -- rich but not at all heavy.

Everyone at the table agreed that the Mickey salad was a winner: the freshest baby greens, creamy lumps of snow-white goat cheese, whole sun-dried tomatoes, a smattering of pine nuts and, over top, moist, shredded chicken and fresh balsamic vinaigrette. Fabulous.

The tangy vegetarian lasagna was not quite as elegant, served in a massive, toppled portion next to a side salad. It tasted healthy -- good for the heart, but just a bit shy of satisfying the soul. I'd rather come back when Sanne's working -- for his scampi rosso or linguine carbonara.

After this relatively light meal, we had no problem devouring three incredible desserts made by Patisserie Poupon: creamy white chocolate cheesecake with a dark chocolate crumb crust; dense pecan bourbon pie drizzled with chocolate; and a marbleized sponge cake pyramid filled with hazelnut and chocolate mousses. Ethel & Ramone's may know salads, but it also knows decadence.

Ethel & Ramone's

1615 Sulgrave Ave.

410-664-2971

Hours: Open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday, and dinner Wednesday through Sunday

Credit cards: MC, V

Prices: Appetizers, $2.75-$7.95; entrees, $7.50-$13.95. No liquor license; bring your own wine or beer.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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