Spike and Charlie Gjerde's new seafood restaurant, Atlantic, is so absolutely the place of the moment, it almost doesn't matter what the food tastes like.
Atlantic customers are television personalities, the city's movers and shakers, the young and the beautiful, and only a few wallflowers like the four of us.
You don't just drink a margarita here. You drink an Atlantic Margarita, made with Chinaco Bianco, Cointreau and fresh lime juice. It's poured at the table and served in a salt-rimmed martini glass, and with a wedge of lime looks too beautiful to drink.
Atlantic's menu is the stuff of every au courant diner's dreams. You don't have to feel gauche if you don't want to order a full dinner. There are more "Small Plates" on the menu than there are entrees. These are clever little dishes priced under $10, like an "Inside-Out Roll" of fresh tuna and ginger-soy noodles, or crab salad with lemon ranch dressing, steamed sweet potatoes and spinach.
The dining room is Baltimore's newest and most striking expression of Utility Chic -- hi-tech, minimalist and forward-looking. The curves of the walls suggest an ocean liner, a dreamy wave pattern is projected on one wall and a futuristic fountain cascades near the bar. That's about it in the way of watery motifs. The design is stark, to be sure, but intriguing and surprisingly comfortable. (On the other hand, one of my guests did whisper longingly, "Where is Martha Stewart when you need her?")
Who could miss Martha, though, when each plate is so artfully arranged? Or, more importantly, when you get bread this fabulous? When the raw oysters, placed so prettily on ice and seaweed, are this cold and briny sweet?
Not everything is flawless; but the food is, for the most part, exceptionally good. Lobster Pan Roast is a stunning combination of succulent lobster tails, polenta and colorful vegetables like sliced carrots, tomato and crisp green beans in an understated, fragrant broth. A gorgeous dish.
"Filet Mignon" of Tuna is cooked perfectly. Like good beef, the tuna comes rare at the center so it's flavorful and moist. A dark wine sauce adds to the illusion that this is more meat than fish. With it we get a fluffy mound of mashed potatoes studded with snippets of green onion.
If you crave something lighter, the "Crab Plate" from the small plates is a winner. Here crab is presented in three different guises. A small crab cake isn't loaded with lump, but has pleasing seasonings. The delicate crab salad is even better, and crab meat folded into guacamole is a luxurious delight.
The only nonseafood on the menu is a beautiful piece of tenderloin, cooked rosy rare. It comes with a square of scalloped potatoes layered with mushrooms.
But not everything delights. A smooth-as-silk lobster bisque turns out to be a mild disappointment -- sensuous but short on lobster meat. And a pool of pumpkin seed oil on its surface is nothing but a greasy distraction. Only the Thai Cobb salad is a complete washout, though. The squid on top of avocado puree is chewy, and the dish has no real flavor -- certainly no Thai spiciness.
We didn't complain; my guest simply didn't eat much of it. But the manager graciously offered to take it off our bill. Typical of the service, though: When we got the check, there it was.
How else did our servers let us down? Let me count the ways.
Start with the $6 Atlantic margarita, poured at table. Or maybe I should say poured on table.
And speaking of pouring, this is the first time I've spent more than two hours in a restaurant and never had my water glass refilled.
Then there was the butter boy, for want of a better term. He's designated to circulate from table to table using tongs to put butter balls on butter plates. He disappeared around the same time as our first courses and we never saw him, or the butter, for the rest of the evening.
I ordered oysters on the half shell. Our waiter brought me soup. But at least he brought me something; later we would have settled for simply a glimpse of him.
Who knows? Maybe half the staff was down with the flu that night, although no one told us if they were short-handed, and there did seem to be plenty of waiters rushing around.
As one friend said: "This is a very nice restaurant. I just don't want to spend the rest of my life here."
Service: * 1/2
Where: Can Company Complex, 2400 Boston St., Canton
Hours: Open every day for lunch and dinner.
Prices: Appetizers, $5.50-$9; main courses, $15-$23. Major credit cards.
Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *
Pub Date: 03/14/99