Dish Cafe's charms will bowl you over

January 29, 1998|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Hardly anyone was eating at the Dish Cafe when we stopped in for dinner on a recent Thursday night. That, we predict, is about to change.

This restaurant is so good, so visually stunning and so moderately priced, given what executive chef Carl Hackett is attempting, that all its modern, stainless-steel seats and velvet-cushioned banquettes deserve to be filled on a nightly basis. Factor in a harbor-front location inside the newly renovated Harbor Inn Pier 5, and incredibly attentive service from every employee we encountered, and it seems the Dish Cafe is sure to be a winner.

Why that hasn't happened in the two months that the Dish Cafe has been open is a bit of a puzzle, though we're told the restaurant is quite busy for lunch.

The word busy also describes the decor, but in the best possible sense. Against a backdrop of warm, sand-colored walls and cool stainless-steel tables and chairs, there are bursts of color. Hand-blown hanging lamps in jewel-toned glass. Boxy columns tiled in a random mosaic. Shelves display one-of-a-kind dishes, along with heavy glass bottles that lean precariously to the side. Everything works in concert, from the curved coat rack to the metal clipboard that holds the menu.

nTC To start the meal, there are soups, salads and one appetizer -- garlic scampi on blackened tomatoes and crispy polenta. The shrimp capelli soup, brought by mistake, looked so good we decided to keep it -- a broad bowl of broth with angel-hair pasta and three large shrimp, wrapped mummy-style in won-ton skins. The soup needed more flavor, but the shrimp were delicious, surrounded with shrimp mousse beneath their crisp-fried exterior.

The soup of the day was butternut squash, a thick and creamy puree with the flavor and sweetness of pumpkin pie, and the buttery flourish of homemade croutons. Our salad was an artfully arranged tumble of the freshest field greens, sliced pears and toasted walnuts, with big chunks of Stilton cheese nestled inside radicchio leaves.

Even the chicken salad sandwich was given fancy treatment -- wrapped in bright green Armenian flatbread with applewood-smoked bacon, Boursin cheese, spinach and tomatoes. We loved the paper cone holding crisp waffle fries, and the fresh slaw of slivered cabbage, carrots and red bell pepper on the side.

But it was the rare-grilled tuna, swathed in the essence of tangerine, and the rack of lamb in a subtle glaze of pomegranate juice that wowed us. The tuna was served with tiny grilled asparagus and refried black beans; the lamb set against fragrant, pearl-sized couscous and sliced, grilled vegetables. The dishes were $16 and $18 respectively; at fancier restaurants along the harbor, they would go for $10 more.

We were so satisfied, we hardly needed the rich triple-chocolate mousse cake, the individual round of cakelike bread pudding flavored with nutmeg, or the goblet of berry-topped passion fruit sorbet. They were wonderful, which essentially sums up the dish on the Dish Cafe.

Dish Cafe

Address: Harbor Inn Pier 5, 711 Eastern Ave.

410-843-7711

Hours: Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers, $5-$8; entrees, $7-$18

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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