Lynn's merits a Locust Point trip

Discovery: Expect to find cozy atmosphere and appealing food at this pricey restaurant in a blue collar neighborhood.

Sunday Gourmet

March 05, 2000|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Some restaurants, like Lynn's in Locust Point, seem a little out of place in their neighborhood. They need to be discovered, so they can build up a clientele that's willing to travel a bit to eat there.

Lynn's, which has been open a couple of months, hasn't been discovered yet.

It's an expensive restaurant for a blue-collar neighborhood. You don't have to spend $50 a person, as we did, but if you order the cheapest dish on the menu you're still paying $14 for meatless baked pasta. A salad on the side would be extra -- $7 extra.

The result is that Lynn's was almost empty when we had dinner there on a midweek night. Because that's fairly typical right now, says owner Lynn Schaare, everything is being cooked to order so as not to waste food. (We had complained to her about the long waits between courses.) Dishes like the pan-roasted chicken that have to be prepared in advance weren't even available that night. Here I was thinking there would be more of a wait for the food if every table was taken. Foolish me.

If you go knowing what to expect -- a leisurely and not inexpensive meal -- you should like Lynn's a lot. The two pretty dining rooms have walls sponged a soft gold, romantic appointments and formally set tables. The service is excellent, with just the right balance of friendliness and reserve. Lynn's strength is that combination of cozy Baltimore atmosphere and appealing food that places like the best restaurants in Little Italy exemplify.

Not that this is Italian food. Chef Paul Lopez has created a limited menu with Maryland, French and Mediterranean accents. There are just six appetizers and eight main courses, and some elements appear again and again, like the steamed baby vegetables. Smart move. Right now this is about as much as the kitchen can handle.

It's hard to generalize about our meal. The specials, for instance, were the high and the low points of the evening. The "croustade of the day," a savory cream puff shell filled with lobster, should have been out of this world; but the shell was overbaked and the filling a bit dry. On the other hand, salmon steamed with baby vegetables in parchment turned out to be just about perfect. When the waiter cut open the parchment envelope, a fragrant cloud of steam wafted forth. The fish, silky-moist, and beautifully steamed fresh vegetables benefited from a suave white wine sauce served on the side.

Among the first courses, sauteed frog's legs stole the show. The delicate white meat, just dusted with gold, found the proper foil in its caper, parsley, lemon and butter sauce. A "traditional Spanish tortilla," something like a frittata, had its own charms. The puffy little round of egg placed on a salad of baby greens offered textural contrast and a pleasing combination of flavors.

Mussels Provencale were more complicated: The fat shellfish swam in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers and fennel that shouted its bold flavors.

The same could be said of the equivalent entree, a Maryland-style cioppino. The seafood stew had the same sauce and mussels, plus rockfish and shrimp. And here's a first: Because the kitchen had no clams that night, the chef substituted lobster. You can't complain about that.

Assertive seasoning characterized our other two entrees as well. The tagliatelle pasta, baked with roasted acorn squash and Asiago cheese, packed a wallop with its intense tastes of sage and thyme. The tender pink rack of lamb chops had enough juicy flavor to stand up to the herb-scented mustard-and-bread-crumb coating. It would have been even better if the meat had been trimmed a little closer. The promised Provencale vegetable fricassee turned out to be those good baby vegetables, which was fine with me. A thick cloud of homey mashed potatoes rounded out the plate.

For dessert, the choices were crepes or flourless chocolate cake, neither of which turned out to be what we expected. Imagine crepes crossed with blintzes, only the pancakes -- not as thin as they can be -- were stuffed with mild goat cheese instead of cottage cheese. With these came either a strawberry sauce or (my recommendation) a liqueur-sparked orange-butter sauce. As for the cake, it was instead a chocolate shell containing chocolate mousse and a small round of brownie-like cake -- which I, for one, preferred to cake alone.

LYNN'S

Food: * * *

Service: * * *

Atmosphere: * * *

Where: 554 E. Fort Ave.

Hours: Open every night for dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch

Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-8.95; main courses, $13.95-29.95

Call: 410-332-0737

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

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