Food isn't as special as decor, but Paloma's is worth a visit

Eats

March 09, 2000|By David Richardson and Cameron Barry | David Richardson and Cameron Barry,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If movie director Tim Burton ("Edward Scissorhands," the darkest of the "Batman" movies and "Ed Wood") had turned his eccentric talents to interior design rather than filmmaking, Paloma's would have been the result. After your eyes adjust to the scenery here, you may wonder why you played it safe and painted your whole house beige.

Paloma's has a traditional bar and a dining area, but most of its several rooms have been laid out for lounging. There are long couches, deep chairs and lamps covered with glittering scarves. Leopard abounds. A deep-green game room has a fireplace and a Chinese red armoire filled with board games. Another has black walls painted with ghostly trees and a ceiling festooned with netting and tiny colored lights. An artfully lighted red ceiling sets off the fuchsia walls of the dining area.

Paloma's is more than a restaurant. It's a bar, a dance club, a theater and an art gallery. From Wednesdays to Saturdays, there are DJs, live bands, poetry readings, improvisations, monologues and plays on a pair of small stages. Most of the performance pieces start late and can draw quite a crowd. But that leaves plenty of time to enjoy dinner in the relative emptiness before the hordes arrive.

Paloma's menu, which offers sandwiches, soups and salads and a modest selection of entrees, is much less imaginative than the decor, but we enjoyed our food. The kitchen is quirky -- our waitress wasn't entirely sure what was available -- and quite slow, but you can look at the artwork on the walls or play backgammon while you wait for your meal. Just don't go to Paloma's if you're in a hurry.

One of us started with a Caesar salad and chose penne with Italian sausage as an entree. While not a traditional, garlicky Caesar, the salad was crisp, lemony and studded with fresh croutons. The penne, an extremely generous serving, was topped with chopped tomato, hot sausage and, surprisingly, pignoli (pine nuts). The combination was delicious, and there was enough food for dinner and a subsequent lunch.

Another in our party went for traditional bar fare, starting with an artichoke and spinach dip and topping it off with a cheeseburger. The dip was standard but good and rich; the cheeseburger was huge and yummy, if a little overcooked. The accompanying french fries were excellent.

We also tried homemade soup and shepherd's pie. Only the soup was a disappointment. Split pea, the evening's designated soup, was unavailable. French onion, the only other choice, was bland. Without being asked, our waitress kindly offered to take it off our bill.

Shepherd's pie was comfort food at its best -- piping-hot mashed potatoes over ground meat, with the nontraditional but nondistracting addition of corn underneath and cheese on top.

The evening's dessert choices were Key lime pie and brownies. The brownies, a generous serving, were topped with fresh whipped cream and a drizzling of chocolate sauce. How could you go wrong? The Key lime pie boasted a tender graham cracker crust, more of the fresh whipped cream and a slice of fresh lime, which we thought was a nice touch.

Paloma's was pretty empty when we were there at dinner time. We could join the crowds that arrive later but we're always too tired for late-night dancing or theater, especially during the week. But we'd go back for dinner on the way home from work. It's the kind of place that makes you feel hip, even if you're having the early-bird special.

Paloma's

15 W. Eager St. 410-783-9004

Hours: Open daily for dinner

Credit cards: American Express, Master Card, Visa

Prices: Appetizers $2.95 to $7.50; entrees $5.95 to $12.95

Food: **1/2

Service: ***

Atmosphere: ***

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