Concept and look offer new appeal Restaurant: The Hyatt's Pisces has a wonderful view, attractive decor and uneven food.

March 01, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

If location, location, location were all-important in the restaurant business, the Hyatt's newly renovated dining room would be the best restaurant in Baltimore. Pisces offers a spectacular view of the harbor -- so wonderful you might not even notice how uneven the food is.

The dining room reopened in early December where Berry & Elliot's used to be, with a new name, a new concept and a new look. I love the new look almost as much as I love the view -- comfortably contemporary with lots of slate gray, sleek wood, clever table settings and charming little hanging lights of jewel-bright blue glass.

I like the concept. The restaurant, in keeping with its name, has a sort of New Age -- or maybe just California -- feel to it, starting with lots of seafood. (Some fish, like tilapia, you may not have heard of.) Asian ingredients are juxtaposed with classic French treatments.

Even though it's a limited menu, there's a vegetarian selection of grilled vegetables and herbed couscous. And trendy ingredients are featured front and center, like sun-dried tomato oil, Yukon Gold potatoes, jicama and kataifi. (This last is the crisp but delicate Greek shredded wheat pastry that Citronelle's Michel Richard popularized as a coating.)

Best of all, each dish sounds better than the last, something that's not always true of au courant menus full of exotic ingredients. Take the rockfish with lump crab meat, scallions, pine nuts, charred tomatoes and a lemon-chive sauce.

The one thing I didn't expect from that description, though, was that the dish would have surprisingly little flavor.

We ran into other problems. Pis-ces' kataifi shrimp starts with gorgeous jumbo shrimp -- no problem there. But they were coated in a thick, somewhat greasy, batter-like version of the pastry.

For some reason this same kataifi coating turned up on the mild, delicately textured tilapia fillet instead of the promised potato crust. Still, with its delicious red pepper coulis, fresh spinach cooked just long enough and braised leeks, the dish won us over.

But a first course of "battered claws and oysters" was mostly batter -- and a greasy batter at that -- and very little seafood. Steamed mussels with garlic butter pleased us more; they were small, tender and well-cleaned.

An equally successful first course was a spicy seafood chowder, along the lines of Maryland crab soup but with a variety of shellfish and with vegetables that hadn't been cooked to death.

The same couldn't be said of the Chesapeake paella. Here were shrimp, mussels, clams, rockfish fillet, chicken and andouille sausage nestled on a bed of rice sparked with saffron. So far, so good; but they had all been overcooked to the point of dryness.

A better choice would be Pis-ces' crab cakes with their silky lemon-caper remoulade. They were made with nice jumbo lumps of crab, pleasantly seasoned and arranged prettily on a julienne of carrots and zucchini.

It's hard to generalize when you get such an uneven meal. But two things gave me hope that this very attractive restaurant is going to get its act together. First, Pisces has fabulous bread, crusty and flavorful. That's always a good sign.

And then the desserts were uniformly lovely -- an apple tart on a round of puff pastry with cinnamon ice cream; a trompe l'oeil chocolate sack filled with chocolate mousse and liqueur-soaked spongecake; a dreamy slice of cheesecake with fresh fruit on top. When the rest of the meal reaches these heights, Pisces will be a restaurant with food to match the view.

Pisces

Where: Hyatt Regency, 300 Light St.

Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner only

Prices: Appetizers, $8-$21; entrees, $15-$28; major credit cards

Call: 410-528-1234

Pub Date: 3/01/98

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