New Restaurants

March 26, 1998

Annapurna, 204 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, 410-484-2944. *** $$

Pikesville's first Indian restaurant is a diamond in the rough. Tucked into an unassuming cottage next to a tire shop, Annapurna serves a range of Indian appetizers, soups and entrees, not to mention a dozen kinds of Indian breads. Nothing is precooked, the owner says. After tasting, I'm a believer.

Our foursome began with two appetizer platters - one vegetarian, one with meat. They arrived hot and lightly fried. I still crave the samosas (pastries filled with vegetables or ground lamb) and the vegetable pakora (vegetables fried in a chickpea batter).

FOR THE RECORD - Brigitte Bledsoe and Tiffany Bowers, pictured in yesterday's Dining Out guide in LIVE, are no longer associated with Tapestry restaurant in Fells Point.
The Sun regrets the error.

If spicy food is a concern, fear not. Annapurna's menu earmarks hot dishes, and the chef can accommodate your comfort level. A dinner mate's lamb vindaloo - lamb marinated in yogurt and cooked with potatoes in a spicy sauce - arrived moderately spiced, just as she had specified. Seasoning in the chicken curry, turmeric-flavored chicken korma, and the saffron-laced shrimp biryani did not overpower. Oh, the bread. Kashmiri naan, filled with raisins and nuts, made the perfect accompaniment to our meals.-MH

Cafe Madrid, 505 S. Broadway, 410-276-7700. *** $$$

Spanish cuisine has arrived in Fells Point. Don't let the South Broadway location throw you. Cafe Madrid is a superb, white-tablecloth restaurant. Enter under the black awning out front, and you'll find yourself impeccably served and dining by candlelight.

We began with the tapas combination for two, samplings of five appetizers. Each was served hot and tasted fresh. Standouts were the shrimp in garlic, lobster and sherry sauce and the chorizo sausage.

We could have made a meal of the tapas alone. Instead, we selected entrees from the list of specials. The French could have laid claim to the creamy sauce in pimientos pequillo (peppers with lobster and mushrooms). The paella alicante arrived sizzling and brimming with shrimp, mussels and squid. Menu entrees include sauteed salmon in caper sauce, roast duck with Serrano ham and cognac, and rack of lamb for two.

Choosing a dessert proved daunting. Chef Pepe rescued us with tidbits of several sweets. The unanimous favorite? The citrus-flavored Spanish roll cake topped with pine nuts.-MH

Charleston, 1000 Lancaster St., 410-332-7373. ***1/2 $$$1/2

The restaurant that was Savannah has been reinvigorated with its move to new and larger quarters. At night the dining room is romantic and flowery, a worthy setting for chef Cindy Wolf's New Southern cooking. I loved the death-by-cream she-crab soup; the slithery, hot, cornmeal-crusted oysters; the delicate little jade-green haricots verts; the hot puff of spoon bread.

The wild boar chop - meaty, flavorful and tender - came with a quivery parsnip flan and baby spinach leaves steamed just a little. Enormous shrimp with their heads still on were sauteed with fiery andouille sausage and bits of Cajun ham, then served over creamy grits. A superb creme brulee and bread pudding that tasted unexpectedly like a hot chocolate-banana souffle were a luscious finish.

Not everything is perfect - you may get an overly peppery soup here or a tough pastry shell there. But on the whole, the restaurant's reinvention as Charleston is a plus for all who love imaginative food and Southern cooking.-EL

Dish Cafe, Harbor Inn Pier 5, 711 Eastern Ave., 410-843-7711 **1/2 $$

If image is everything, then run, don't walk, to the Dish Cafe. The decor is so dazzlingly hip it's hard to remember that this is, after all, the Harbor Inn's coffee shop.

The food is pretty hip as well. How many hotel coffee shops serve tender baby lamb chops glazed with pomegranate molasses, with citrus couscous and tiny crisp asparagus? Or garlicky shrimp, spicy blackened tomatoes and crisply fried polenta? Or sea bass in a dried fruit sauce?

Of course, if image isn't everything, you may not appreciate the unannounced substitution of sauteed spinach for arugula on a delicious vegetarian sandwich with tomatoes and grilled focaccia. Or a serious shortage of dressing and pear on a pear, Stilton and walnut salad. Or the fact that the waiters tend to disappear just when you need them most.

Oh well, desserts will leave you happy, especially the creamy Key lime tart and what is surely Baltimore's trendiest new dessert, chocolate-banana bread pudding - now rivaling tiramisu popularity.-EL

Donna's Coffee Bar, 3101 St. Paul St., 410-889-3410. *** $

Donna strikes again, this time in Charles Village. The newest Donna's Coffee Bar has an urban-chic interior and sidewalk seating on 31st Street under a heated tent.

There's a reason these cafes seem to sprout up everywhere: The updated Italian fare is wonderful, prices are low and the atmosphere is always stylish.

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