Less than meets the eye in Pikesville


January 13, 2000|By David Richardson and Cameron Barry | David Richardson and Cameron Barry,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The historic Pikes Theater in Pikesville has taken on a new life as a market, cafe and full-service restaurant, DiPasquale's at the Pikes. The venerable old space has been used to full advantage by the new owners, who have decorated it in cheerful reds, accented with blond wood and shining chrome and brass art-deco fixtures. The lighting, worthy of a feature film, casts a warm glow over everything.

The owners have thought of everything, too. There is a great-looking little market, which sells wine, pre-packaged Italian delicacies, such as panetone, and imported cooking supplies, such as vinegar, olive oil and pasta.

The adjoining deli brims over with meats, cheeses, breads, desserts and specialties such as Mastellone's mozzarella and sausage (DiPasquale's took over that Baltimore culinary institution when Andrea Mastellone retired last year).

The restaurant has an elegant bar, a brick oven for pizza and an open kitchen. There is a good wine selection, with six or seven varieties available by the glass.

It pains us, then, that we cannot be as enthusiastic about the food (or service) as we are about the interior design of DiPasquale's. The kitchen knows what to serve -- an ambitious menu of pasta, seafood, house-made soup, pizza, traditional Italian meat dishes, large salads, bread and dessert. And much of our food was presented with the panache and thoughtful detail we would expect in grander surroundings.

Unfortunately, the tastes coming out of the kitchen didn't match up. Why, we asked each other over each course, doesn't the food taste as wonderful as the place looks?

We started off by sharing one of the pizzas (they make a generous appetizer for four people). Ours -- the scampi -- had a thin, authentic crust and plenty of shrimp, but where were the garlic and herbs that could make a slice sing more than one note? Fried calamari, another appetizer, was on the tough side and served with an uninspired red sauce.

The spinach salad, while fresh and abundant, came topped with button mushrooms. This was quite a surprise, because the deli had several more interesting mushroom varieties for sale. Why not garnish it with the delicious-looking porcini in the deli case?

In spite of its casual elan, DiPasquale's is not cheap. Two of the entrees we ordered, a special salmon and veal taormina, veal scaloppine sauted in white wine and lemon caper sauce, were both $16.95. For that price, we expect more than over-sauced salmon or a dull side of ziti with lifeless red sauce to go with the veal.

Cannelloni, one of the restaurant's baked pasta dishes, was the hit of the evening. The tubes of fresh pasta were perfectly cooked and generously filled with a flavorful mixture of veal and chicken, topped with tomato cream sauce. Linguine with white clam sauce was also good -- the pasta was al dente, the fresh baby clams were tender and the seasoning, with its hint of garlic, was just right.

Desserts were uneven. Although cannoli consists of a pastry shell filled with a flavored mixture of ricotta and cream, it can be a reasonably light dessert. DiPasquale's house-made cannoli, highly recommended by our server, was leaden and overloaded. New York cheesecake, on the other hand, was perfection -- light and smooth. Fudge cake was less like cake and more like fudge, but its satisfying richness is bound to please chocolate-lovers.

As for the service, it was, at best, inexperienced, and not at all on a par with the restaurant's ambitions. One of our servers was painfully slow, and neither knew much about the food they were recommending or bringing to our table.

This section of Pikesville is crying out for good places, and indeed, the restaurant was well populated one evening and full the next.

DiPasquale's has almost everything it needs to be a huge success. With some fine-tuning, some re-examination of recipes and some better management of the staff, we think it could be.

DiPasquale's at the Pikes

921 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville 410-580-1400

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner daily

Prices: Appetizers, $3.50 to $8.95; entrees, $10.95 to $18.95

Food: **

Service: *

Atmosphere: ***

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

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