Scoring more misses than hits Restaurant: A well-conceived menu can't make up for problems with execution.

June 21, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

The new Lord Baltimore Grill in the Hilton downtown is the kind of restaurant that gives hotel dining a bad name. If you think that's harsh, read on.

It's never a good sign when you walk into a dining room at a reasonable hour and just about every table is empty. After all, to a certain degree hotels have a captive audience.

The Grill's newly renovated dining room itself is pleasant enough. It's a handsome room done in soft neutrals, designed to relax and soothe. As for the menu of regional American foods, it's short but well-conceived. It was the execution we had problems with.

Take the house specialty, carrot chips with a Gorgonzola dipping sauce. OK, I admit they weren't well-conceived. But if you are going to take long shavings of carrot and deep fry them so they look like an enormous plate of overdone bacon, you don't do it in advance. (Why else would the carrot chips be cold and some of them so tough you could hardly chew them?)

Nor can I recommend the Clipper City ale-battered onion rings. "Try these as a terrific appetizer," says the menu. Try these as a terrific appetizer only if you want what looks like a dinner plate of greasy doughnuts put down in front of you. This was serious batter and serious grease.

Nothing else was quite so dreadful as those two, but there were enough minor annoyances to make us cranky. Beautifully pan-seared rock fish, for instance, was supposed to be served on roasted Silver Queen corn and sweet red onions. What we got looked and tasted like canned creamed corn.

The sun-dried tomato risotto was made with regular tomatoes. Crab cakes -- good crab cakes -- were ordered broiled and arrived fried. Steak that was supposed to come to the table sizzling in butter actually arrived with two pats of herbed butter on top, no sizzle. And while it was a decent enough New York strip steak, it was pricey at $24, considering that nothing else came with it.

A la carte gratineed asparagus tasted good, but were unpleasantly shriveled because they had been left too long under the broiler. A char-grilled pork loin was fine but overpowered by a dark, gloppy, chutney-like sauce. Creamed spinach was swimming in liquid. Heavy desserts went untouched after a few bites.

On the positive side, an appetizer of mussels in a fine tomato sauce with cheese was the highlight of the meal. (The mussels can also be ordered as a main course.) Our food in general was beautifully plated, with the grilled items garnished interestingly with whole garlic and shallot bulbs and herbs, and spangled with parsley.

Probably what surprised us most at this expensive restaurant was the slipshod service. The waiter and busboy couldn't have been nicer or more attentive; I blame the management for poor training. To give just one example: Our waiter hadn't been taught how to open a bottle of wine or to let the person who ordered the wine taste it. For some reason, he poured me more than a taste (although not a full glass) and immediately filled everyone else's glass before I could say anything. I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to do -- grab the bottle and finish filling my glass?

Lord Baltimore Grill

Food: *1/2

Service: **

Atmosphere: ***

Where: Baltimore Hilton, 20 W. Baltimore St.

Hours: Open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner; major credit cards

Prices: Appetizers: $5.50-$8.35; main courses: $15.95-$27.95

Call: 410-539-8400

Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

Pub Date: 6/21/98

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