Severna Park cafe has taste of Europe

Eats

February 14, 2002|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WE KNEW we liked Cafe Boulevard before we even got the dinner menu. Artfully decorated, the room radiates joyful warmth. Tiled mirrors, clay pots of flowers and china plates adorn the stucco walls. Banquettes upholstered in a kilimlike fabric and bentwood chairs form cozy eating areas around tables toward the rear of the room.

In front, two squishy sofas grouped around a large coffee table face plate-glass windows; the flower-filled wicker planters punctuating the sills perk up the view of Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard. The lights are low, the jazz emanating from the speakers is soothing.

Cafe Boulevard's flair for design extends to its cuisine. Co-owner Miryana Navarro-Monzo prepares creative Continental cuisine that's based primarily on whatever ingredients look good to her on any given day. Her son Christian and a baker assist her in the kitchen. Another son, Santiago, oversees the cafe's impressive selection of drinks, which includes some 20 types of teas that he blends.

Navarro-Monzo, a native of Croatia, creates her own recipes. They reflect a thorough understanding of European cuisine, particularly dishes from the lands touching the Mediterranean. For example, the use of green olives and raisins in shepherd's pie gave the traditionally English dish a wonderful, unexpected Spanish accent. One moment, the briny taste of pimento-stuffed olives was the dominant note in the ground-beef filling. In the next, the juicy sweetness of the raisins took over. A thick layer of creamy mashed potatoes, lightly browned on top, formed the perfect bridge between salty and sweet.

A French influence was at work in another entree. The vegetable torta was a savory pastry similar to a quiche, layered with zucchini, mushrooms, spinach, red peppers and cheese. Because Navarro-Monzo used a third of the amount of butter called for in the traditional French recipe, the pastry was light and greaseless.

An entree of salmon croquettes had all the basics: two fat cakes of fresh salmon filled with diced scallions and breaded and fried to perfection. In another place, at another time, this would have been the best entree on the table. But its subtle flavor paled in contrast to the robust shepherd's pie and torta. And tiny new potatoes would have been a better accompaniment than the two rather large, unwieldy potatoes served on the side.

Cafe Boulevard's dinner menu does not include appetizers. Nor does it really need to; good-sized salads accompany all entrees. On the night we visited, the salad consisted of crisp Boston and romaine lettuces tossed with tomatoes, the most delicious, peppery cornichons we've ever tasted and homemade dressing. (The creamy vinaigrette was preferable to the too-thick blue cheese.)

Not knowing how substantial the salad would be, we split a bowl of broccoli-Cheddar soup. We were stunned to see a true French-style potage placed before us, instead of the gloppy yellow variety that we usually get when we ask for this kind of soup. And it paired perfectly with the chewy, warm bread already on the table.

Dozens of brilliant-green broccoli buds gave the soup a wonderful texture. Cheese played a supporting role here, secondary to the chicken-stock-based broth.

Luck was against us when it came to dessert, because the cafe's baker was out sick. As a result, the chocolate mousse cake and apple pie we ordered were on the dry side. A fragrant cup of organic, hand-blended peppermint herb tea and a strawberry pina colada smoothie made admirable stand-ins, however.

Cafe Boulevard's relaxing aura encourages lingering. We did that long after the official closing time. But our cheerful server never rushed us, nor did the owners.

Clearly, they're enjoying what they do, and it shows.

Cafe Boulevard

548 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd., Severna Park

410-544-2660

Open: For breakfast, lunch and dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays

Credit cards: AE, MC, V

Prices: Entrees $9.95 to $15.95

Food: *** 1/2

Service: *** 1/2

Atmosphere: *** 1/2

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