A taste for the quirky

Restaurant: Genevieve's food is modestly priced and intriguing, but uneven.

Sunday Gourmet

March 04, 2001|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Do you have a soft spot in your heart for funky little restaurants?

Do you wish there were more places that serve intriguing food for under $15?

And do you have a forgiving nature?

Then Genevieve's, the full-service Fells Point restaurant that Margaret's Cafe Open has metamorphosed into, may be just the place for you.

But if you're the kind of person who'll be bothered that the miniature bathroom sink is in the hallway, not the bathroom, then read no further. This is not the place for you. If you order your beef tenderloin medium rare and then expect it to arrive at the table medium rare, this may not be the place for you either.

Genevieve's pretty dining room is small, with fewer than a dozen tables. The spareness of its bare wood floor and mismatched chairs and tables is softened by pale yellow walls, plants, strings of miniature white lights and a couple of moody paintings. There are whimsical touches, like a whip "framed" and hung on the wall. Tables are decorated with small terra-cotta pots of herbs.

The new owners, Alison Dryer and Peter Rasmussen, have kept many of the vegetarian dishes that Margaret's Cafe Open was known for, while adding a small list of steak, duck and seafood specials that change with the seasons. They sound exotic and upscale (seafood bianco over squid-ink fettuccine, for instance, or Thai curry chicken with mangoes and basmati rice), but the reality is down-home comfort food that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.

What works?

A salad of arugula, fresh raspberries, orange segments, pecans and creamy goat cheese with a tangy dressing. (Close your eyes and ignore the dressing's orange color.)

Oyster stew made with plump oysters, cream, oyster liquor and -- thank goodness -- nothing much else.

Smoked salmon, chopped onion, capers and sour cream over a tender buckwheat pancake.

n The sweet potato pancakes, asparagus, basmati rice and mango, and wild rice that accompany various entrees -- the side dishes, in other words.

Homemade desserts like brownies and blondies warmed and served with ice cream and fresh raspberries.

An assortment of homey fresh breads.

What you'll notice missing from this list are our entrees.

The best of them was poached salmon with hollandaise. But instead of arranging the sauce artfully on the fish, the kitchen topped the salmon with cooked carrots and onions. The hollandaise came in a dish on the side. With the fish was a mound of parsleyed potatoes and perfectly cooked asparagus. All of this tasted fine, and for $12 it was a bargain. But it wouldn't have taken much to make it look attractive as well.

The beef tenderloin at $14 was a good deal as well, except that it was so overcooked. And speaking of overcooked, slices of grilled duck breast were gray and had the texture of pot roast.

The only one of our entrees that needed a major overhaul -- as opposed to not cooking it so long or taking more care with the looks of the dish -- was the Thai curry chicken. It was basically curried vegetables spooned over boneless, skinless chicken breasts, not chicken simmered with spices. Unfortunately, it had none of the freshness of authentically cooked Thai vegetables -- it was more like a stew whose only flavor was heat.

I would also stay away from the intriguing-sounding sauteed greens with feta and figs unless you're crazy about kale. Just about any other greens would work better.

As negative as all this sounds, Genevieve's has a lot going for it. Yes, you can get a glass of wine here to have with dinner. If you find dishes that please -- like that salad or the oyster stew -- you can have a healthful, inexpensive meal. The service is informal but friendly and efficient. If this is your kind of restaurant, wait a little while so it can work out some of the kinks, and then give it a try.


Food: **

Service: ***

Atmosphere: ***

Where: 909 Fell St. in Fells Point

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday for dinner; Sunday brunch

Prices: Appetizers, $3-$7.50; main courses, $7.50-$16

Call: 410-276-5605

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

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.