Tapas bar opens next to the Charles

TABLE TALK

May 24, 2001|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Good news for all who love the Helmand on North Charles Street. Owner Qayum Karzai and Mary Ellen Massi, an employee who's worked at the Afghan restaurant for a decade, have opened a tapas bar next to the Charles Theatre.

Their new place, Tapas Teatro (1711 N. Charles), is small but chic. There's seating for about 50 people, with room for another 25 or so at the outdoor tables.

Karzai describes the menu as "international small dishes." (The idea of tapas is that you order several of them to nibble on with drinks.) Prices run from $3.25 for chickpeas and capers marinated in balsamic vinaigrette to $7.95 for tenderloin with Gorgonzola and mushrooms. As of now no Afghan appetizers are featured because Karzai doesn't want to compete with the Helmand.

Tapas Teatro is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. This fall, Karzai hopes to start serving brunch on weekends.

Crab cakes beat out appetizer competition

As if our Chesapeake blue crab didn't have enough to worry about, crab cakes are a hot new menu item for restaurants nationally. According to research by the trade magazine Restaurants & Institutions, crab cakes have become one of the most asked-for appetizers, above grilled portobello mushrooms, bruschetta, egg rolls and quesadillas. National chains like Red Lobster and Houston's have recently added them to their menus.

"The demand is growing across the country," confirms Honey Konicoff, vice president of marketing for Phillips Foods, which ships our local delicacy to anywhere in the United States.

Service slip-ups

Is service in restaurants getting worse, or is it just my imagination? Things can go wrong in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, beyond not getting the food on the table in a timely fashion. Here are two examples.

A reader wrote to tell me about an odd experience she had at a popular and fairly upscale Fells Point restaurant, which I won't name because I can't confirm the incident.

"As the hostess was leading us to our table," Virginia Green's e-mail says, "one of my party commented to the others that the waiters were really cute here. The hostess said, `That's my fiance' and threw a napkin at the girl who made the comment. ... Yes, she did throw something at her in anger. Good thing it was a napkin and not a knife."

I would have left, but amazingly, they stayed.

I get tired of waitresses who say, "Everything's good" when you want them to suggest something from the menu. But the following is an unusual variation on the theme: At Petit Louis in Roland Park, one of the people at our table asked the waitress what she liked on the menu.

"The owner won't let us tell," she answered. And I'm sure the owner didn't want her to tell us that, either.

I actually felt sorry for the restaurateur, which doesn't happen all that often.

Table Talk welcomes interesting tidbits of restaurant news. Please send suggestions to Elizabeth Large, Table Talk, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278; fax to 410-783-2519; or e-mail to elizabeth.large@baltsun.com.

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