Where romance is on the menu

UP FRONT

Dining: Ten of the area's best restaurants for wooing and cooing.

February 10, 2000|By David Richardson and Cameron Barry | David Richardson and Cameron Barry,Special to the Sun

What makes a restaurant romantic? As a friend said, McDonald's can be special if you're with the right person. But with all the pressure you're under to find a Valentine's Day dining spot, you may need a little help -- from us.

In coming up with the following list of romantic restaurants, we took food, lighting, service and atmosphere into consideration, as well as our own particular tastes. Especially own our tastes.

It's a very quirky list, we admit. We just don't think you need to eat steak to have a romantic dinner, or spend a bundle if you don't have the cash. Still, if you want beef and you have a fat wallet ...

Prime Rib, 1101 N. Calvert St., 410-539-1804

Comments about steak aside, we'd be remiss if we didn't include the Prime Rib, the height of romantic dining in Baltimore. Why is this place a perennial favorite for getting engaged, toasting birthdays and meeting with the firm's biggest client? Terrific and consistent food, and that doesn't mean just meat. It prepares fish equally well, and its vegetables -- especially the creamed spinach and mashed potatoes -- are superb.

Other assets: A great wine list. Well-crafted cocktails from the gleaming bar. Attentive, professional service by tuxedo-clad waiters. Little silver lamps on every table, crisp linens, shining flatware and a soft jazz combo. And last but not least, decor straight from James Bond's boudoir (the Sean Connery era).

Atlantic, 2400 Boston St., 410-675-4564

Atlantic is for the romantic minimalist. Anyone looking for chandeliers, crushed velvet or massive floral arrangements shouldn't bother with this place, which boasts a prime location in the revamped American Can Co. building in Canton.

Sleek, cool and modern, the interior has soaring ceilings, many dining levels -- all open -- a fountain and a video camera that projects a blue map of the Atlantic Ocean on the wall. It's a clean-cut change of pace from the cheesy hearts and flowers motif of Valentine's Day.

The restaurant is another Spike and Charlie Gjerde enterprise, so it has an interesting, mid-priced wine list and some chic "First Sips," or cocktails, to set the mood.

Naturally, the menu emphasizes seafood, from a filet mignon of tuna to monkfish osso buco. Along with its creative kitchen, Atlantic sets itself apart with little touches like delectable house-made breads, blue butter dishes, and desserts, such as caramelized apple tart with sour cream ice cream, that manage to be both decadent and minimal.

Elkridge Furnace Inn, 5745 Furnace Ave., Elkridge, 410-379-9336

A back road in semi-industrialized/semi-rural Elkridge is not where we'd expect to find grand brick buildings from the mid-1700s, but that is exactly where you'll come upon the Elkridge Furnace Inn.

The setting is lovely, with enormous old trees, sweeping grounds and a view of the Patapsco River. Inside, the warm, low-ceilinged rooms are Colonial in flavor, with working fireplaces, Oriental rugs and lots of gleaming wood.

In this traditional setting, a daring menu is a surprise, but there are many adventurous choices on the inn's menu. Possibilities include a beautiful pear salad; a seared fish trio of salmon, bluefish and snapper; or a veal rib chop with roasted fennel, Gorgonzola cheese and Marsala wine sauce. Everything, including dessert, is made on the premises.

For Valentine's Day, the Elkridge Furnace Inn goes all out, offering a special menu. And, in what must be the most romantic dining option of all in the area, there's the Top of the Inn, three rooms under the eaves, each containing just one table for two.

Ambassador Dining Room, 3811 Canterbury Road, 410-366-1484

The belle-epoque dining room of a grand old apartment building has found its true calling as the Ambassador Dining Room, which, in our view, is the area's best Indian restaurant. What's romantic about it? We love the rich, spicy flavors of the food, the sizzling platters of tandoori -- served with a flourish -- and the gracious service.

Couples can dine at tables for two with upholstered, high-backed armchairs, and look out leaded-glass windows onto the restaurant's private garden. All tables are lighted with jeweled tea lights, the linens are crisp, and the restaurant's owner goes out of his way to make sure every guest is pleased.

Try bhindi pyaaz, dry-cooked okra with onions and spices, as an appetizer, then feast on Bengali swordfish with mango salsa; huge, tender shrimp adrak, marinated in lime juice, chilies and ginger; or tenderloin of lamb in fennel and chive sauce.

Kawasaki, 413 N. Charles St. 410-659-7600

To us, there's always something romantic about Japanese dining -- the precision and beauty of the food, the ritual of cleansing your hands with a steaming towel, and the tiny cups of hot sake.

At Kawasaki, the fish is off-the-hook fresh, and traditional fare like shumai (delicate, steamed shrimp dumplings) and inventive new dishes like crunchy roll (avocado, smoked salmon and eel covered with tempura chips) are prepared with equal dexterity.

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