Enjoying the benefits of a good Appetite Restaurant: Chef Billy Himmelrich's latest venture features casual dining ` and prices ` with an inventive menu.

December 20, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

For years the tiny dining room next to the Stone Mill Bakery in Green Spring Station was open as a restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights only, with a multi-course prix-fixe menu. Ecole, as it was called, was clearly a labor of love for owner and Baltimore native Billy Himmelrich.

Although he's made his name here as a bread baker, Himmelrich is a chef by training. He attended La Varenne cooking school in Paris and worked in restaurants in France and Washington before moving back to Baltimore.

But even labors of love sometimes have to make money, so this fall Ecole became Appetite, a much more casual undertaking - and one that's priced accordingly. Open five nights a week, the new place offers salads, pizzas, sandwiches, pastas and a few entrees. There's even a menu for kids.

You can get, for instance, an assiette de crudites for around $8, which would be a good supper with a glass of wine. (Speaking of which, you have to bring your own; Appetite doesn't have a liquor license.) The night we were there the platter boasted creamy chevre, grilled red peppers, a bit of salad, an assortment of wonderful olives, and hot, buttery, grilled French bread.

You could start with "Stone Mill's Famous Vegetable Soup" TC (which was good but not famous enough for any of us to have heard of it). Steaming hot and made with vegetables that hadn't been cooked to death, it had a faint sweet-sourness that was more like borscht than a traditional vegetable soup.

Follow that with a flavorful chicken salad made with roast chicken on a fabulous roll and you've got yourself a meal. Or try Appetite's handmade ravioli. This evening the tender, chewy pillows were filled with a mix of crayfish, rockfish and lobster and sauced with herb-scented olive oil.

Appetite also has more substantial dinners, including a grilled fish of the day. This day it was an elegant little plate with snowy pieces of monkfish prettily arranged with braised lentils, sugar snap peas and tomatoes, then edged with a fragrant butter-basil sauce.

Not everything was so picture-perfect. A gorgeous double-cut Delmonico steak had been cooked a bit longer than it should have been, and for some reason it came with both mashed potatoes and shoestring potatoes - and only a very few haricots verts.

A first-course special that evening, two small lamb chops, was supposed to have a raspberry sauce but instead came with what looked like brown gravy. (It tasted more haute than it looked.)

On my own I would probably just keep eating Himmelrich's wonderful raisin-fennel bread and sweet butter and never get to dessert; but the bistro offers several tempting ones. The chocoholic among us loved the chocolate creme brulee, but I was less enthusiastic; it had an odd chewiness, for want of a better word. I preferred the delicate apple cobbler and the intensely rich but light tiramisu. But my favorite was the homey warm chocolate brownie with homemade vanilla bean ice cream.

Except for the menu, the restaurant hasn't changed radically from when it was Ecole. It's not as pretty as I remember it, not with the somewhat unappetizing art that's currently on display. But the same people are still coming here for dinner - those who want fresh and interesting food prepared with flair. Now, though, they can do it five nights a week, and for less money.

Appetite

Food: ***

Service: ***

Atmosphere: **1/2

Where: Green Spring Station in Lutherville

Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner

Prices: Appetizers: $3.95-$7.95; main courses: $7.50-$24.95

Call: 410-821-1358

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

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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