Looks like vacation, tastes like home

Restaurant: The Blue Pointe Grille gets a fancy new look, but the menu turns to the traditional.

Sunday Gourmet

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

Rarely do restaurants upmarket their looks and downmarket their food. The last time I was at Hunters' Lodge, a log cabin on the edge of a busy highway in Ellicott City, the interior had a cozy rusticity that belied its haute contemporary American cuisine. Now it's become the Blue Pointe Grille -- a name with a few too many e's -- and it looks like the library of someone's upscale vacation home. Oriental-style rugs line the floor, shelves are filled with books and a fire burns merrily in the fireplace. The soft lighting is tastefully low (unless someone complains he can't read the menu, and then it gets turned up a bit too much).

With the change of names, the menu has gotten more traditional and down-home -- with prices to match if you stay away from the big-ticket items like the New York strip steak. Seafood is now the specialty here, mostly fish simply grilled and a couple of crab dishes.

Even at dinnertime, Blue Pointe has more moderately priced items -- sandwiches and burgers, as well as pastas and entree salads. There is still a wine recommendation with certain dishes, but it's just as likely to be for quesadillas (Tyrrell's Long Flat Shiraz) as prime rib (Hunter Ashby Merlot).

The new restaurant has a recipe for success that will work if the kitchen starts paying more attention to details. Handsomely large shrimp fried in shredded phyllo are greasy, the barbecued shrimp wrapped in bacon too salty. A savory crab "cheesecake" needs nothing with it, but it comes with an overflowing plateful of tortilla chips.

Not all of the fish in an otherwise fine seafood stew tastes as fresh as it might. (On second thought, the full-flavored broth needs to be degreased.) Soft-shell crabs -- flown in fresh from Mexico, our waiter tells us -- are weighed down with a thick batter. Ahi tuna, ordered medium, is an odd combination of well done and raw, depending where you cut.

But sometimes the food is right on target. The coconut risotto that comes with the soft shells, a special this evening, is an intriguing take on a classic. It's reminiscent of coconut rice pudding, but somehow it works. Meat eaters will glory in the 22-ounce porterhouse with a homemade steak sauce and sauteed mushrooms. And the potatoes on the side, mashed with their skins, couldn't be better.

Oysters Rockefeller are simply baked with fresh spinach and a little Asiago cheese; it's a recipe that lets the briny flavor of the oysters shine through. Crab meat is treated with respect, with just enough seasoning in the miniature crab cakes to bring out the best in the lump crab. Clams casino have melted butter and bacon but not the usual too-heavy blanket of bread crumbs.

Desserts, unfortunately, aren't made in house. Although they are fresh enough, they have nothing to differentiate themselves from cakes and pies you could get anywhere. The one exception is a fine bread pudding indulgently layered with bananas and chocolate, then bathed in a caramel-like bourbon sauce. It's almost worth the trip on its own.

The wait staff is a definite plus at the Blue Pointe Grille, although for some reason our nice waiter stayed away at the end of the evening when the restaurant was less busy. Maybe he just didn't want to rush us.

If I could make only one suggestion to the owners, it wouldn't be about the food or the service. Whatever glitches we ran into are fixable. Instead I would tell them not to recycle the paper menus. There's something unappetizing about sitting down to dinner at a nice restaurant and finding your menu has grease spots on it.

BLUE POINTE GRILLE

Food: **

Service: ***

Atmosphere: ***

Where: 9445 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City

Hours: Open every night for dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $7.75-$9.75; main courses, $12.75-$21.75

Call: 410-461-4990

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

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