24-hour eatery is a cut above

Valentino's serves super-size portions in a spotless setting

July 25, 2002|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In the realm of all-night restaurants, Valentino's is the cleanest place anyone in search of eggs at 3 a.m. could imagine. The creamy stucco exterior looks as though it gets power-washed with bleach daily. Inside, everything is spick-and-span, from the servers' crisp black-and-white uniforms to the hanging silk plants (they obviously get dusted on a regular basis).

Such things may be irrelevant at 3 a.m., however, when pub-crawlers simply want lots of food. In that category, Valentino's delivers - in great quantities.

The Valentino's omelet appeared to be about a foot long, and was filled with feta cheese, diced tomatoes, peppers, onions and a scant number of mushrooms. As good as it was, we could eat only half (the remainder reheated surprisingly well in a frying pan the next day). A hefty side of home fries needed more onion and salt to measure up to the quality of the omelet.

Eggs make up a minute portion of Valentino's nine-page menu, which weighs more than a paperback novel. The restaurant has Italian dishes, Greek fare, soups, hot and cold sandwiches, burgers, salads, subs, barbecue specialties, house specialties, kids' specials, chef's specials, even a category of "captain's specials" - seafood specials not under the separate seafood category. Pizza? They've got it. Roast turkey? That, too.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed, we proceeded beyond eggs slowly. The garden vegetable soup had a thin, tasty tomato base and lots of peas, carrots and tomatoes. Onion rings were the big kind, too heavily breaded to taste like much of anything.

While we liked what was billed as a seasonal fresh-fruit salad, we noted that only about half the contents - melon and cantaloupe - truly were seasonal. The other components - red grapes, oranges and strawberries - could be part of such a salad any time of the year.

Valentino's version of the Greek specialty spanakopita (spinach pie) was an impressive wedge of dense, buttery yet greaseless phyllo dough and the right mixture of spinach and cheese.

Dessert was a tease, beautiful to gaze upon in the glass cases (wisely situated near the entrance) but cold and hard when push came to shove. After trying to shove a fork and knife into the napoleon, I sent it back in exchange for a marginally less hard cookie. The blueberry pie was moist enough, but totally devoid of any flavor other than sweet.

The service at Valentino's was several notches above what one might expect at a 24-hour eatery. Our waiter answered our numerous questions about the food with confidence, and graciously apologized for the rock-hard napoleon.

Overall, Valentino's is a tidier, more-elegant-than-average place to get a late-night snack. For meals during regular hours, it can hold its own, as well, except when it comes to dessert.

Valentino's

Food: 1/2

Service: 1/2

Atmosphere: 1/2

Where: 6627 Harford Road

Open: For breakfast, lunch and dinner daily

Prices: Appetizers $1.95 to $8.95; entrees $1.75 to $24.95

Credit cards: AE, DC, MC, V

Call: 410-254-4700

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