A place to indulge the simple tastes Restaurant: Lennys Chop House goes back to an earlier time, when uncomplicated food came in large portions.

March 08, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Two seemingly contradictory trends have come together in Lennys Chop House, the restaurant recently opened by the Polo Grill's Lenny Kaplan. They should guarantee its success. One is a lifestyle movement trend watchers have dubbed "voluntary simplicity." The other is a late '90s unwillingness to deny oneself.

The idea behind voluntary simplicity is, of course, to simplify. So if you're tired of exotic ingredients, clever pairings and over-elaborate presentations, you will love Lennys' simple and nostalgic menu of comfort foods: steaks and chops and a wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue-cheese dressing.

But there's simple and then there's simple Lennys-style. This is one handsome restaurant, with its high ceilings, clean lines, dark, rich woods, muted colors and splendid chandeliers. There's a swanky bar, a wine room and a private dining room. Only the mural -- a street map of the city -- undercuts the studied elegance.

The service is superb. The food is outrageously indulgent.

Who could mind simplicity when you're talking about triple-cut lamb chops, full of flavor, with edges of crisp, sizzling fat? Or icy-cold, meaty oysters on the half shell? (We got to choose between bluepoints or slightly saltier Wellfleets.)

Steaks are superb -- cuts like a large porterhouse are grilled to rosy perfection. Of course, you pay for perfection, up to $59.90 for a 32-ounce double sirloin.

Everything is a la carte; for $7.95 extra you can have your entree planked. Then it's surrounded with duchesse potatoes, giant asparagus spears, what looks like half a head of broccoli, roasted red peppers, haricots verts, a grilled portobello mushroom, a baked tomato.

You can get a Brobdingnagian pork chop, the snowy white flesh just tinged with pink so it retains its juicy flavor. Order the old-fashioned, yummy, creamed spinach and perhaps the well-seasoned mashed potatoes with it.

Seafood is as good as the steaks and chops. Lennys' tuna is sushi grade and has the texture of filet mignon when ordered rare. Beautifully cleaned, fat mussels are steamed in an engaging sauce of wine and tomatoes. A lobster cocktail, one of the restaurant's signature dishes, consists of half a chicken lobster taken out of its shell, arranged artistically on the plate and served with a fiery remoulade.

(And speaking of remoulade, it's hard not to fill up on the smooth, roasted red pepper remoulade and bread that come to the table when you first sit down.)

Most of the first courses are seafood, but you could also get a warm duck salad. The duck is shredded, then tossed with baby greens, goat cheese, spiced pecans and -- I could do without these -- large, strong-tasting canned hearts of palm.

The kitchen is best when it's preparing the superb ingredients in as simple a way as possible. I'm not sure why the porterhouse steak, for instance, comes with one fried onion ring and a teaspoonful of sweet shallot marmalade on it -- except that the menu promises all the steaks and chops will. I simply scraped the marmalade off the steak, although it went very nicely with the pork chop. And the fried onion ring didn't make much sense with the pork chop, which was accompanied by a sophisticated fruit and nut compote.

While I admire the sheer size of these steaks and chops, I'm not sure we needed half a head of broccoli, or asparagus spears the size of telephone poles. (To be fair, the asparagus was peeled and cooked perfectly.) And too bad the vegetables' hollandaise had the consistency of mayonnaise.

With the rest of our meal being larger than life size, we weren't surprised to find that the desserts were, too. Lennys was out of "mile high" pie that evening, so we contented ourselves with a fine bread pudding, a large but delicate slice of coconut cream pie, a deadly, flourless chocolate cake and profiteroles. Their cream-puff shells were a bit tough, but the kitchen had filled them with so much ice cream and topped them with so much hot fudge it hardly mattered.

If I could change anything at Lennys Chop House, I'd do only two things. First, I'd put pepper grinders on the tables instead of pepper shakers. I like to season my own food if the chef doesn't -- not leave it up to the waiter. And I'd put an apostrophe in the restaurant's name. Most people will do it anyway.

Lennys Chop House

Where: Harbor Inn Pier 5, 711 Eastern Ave.

Hours: Open every night for dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $7.50-$16.95; entrees, $16.95-$59.90; major credit cards

Call: 410-843-5555

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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