Good food at post-Enron prices

Your accountant won't mind if you visit the Brass Elephant's bar

August 01, 2002|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Ah, remember the good old days of last year, before Enron and WorldCom tanked, when stock prices were high and concerns for your portfolio were minimal? Dropping $100 or more for dinner at the Brass Elephant, one of Baltimore's toniest restaurants, was no big deal.

OK, the stock market may be way down and your holdings worth no more than the change you find between sofa cushions. But that doesn't mean the Brass Elephant is strictly off-limits. Head up to the Tusk Lounge on the second floor, where the menu's cheaper, albeit shorter, than what's available downstairs.

While you pay less up here, you can still eat in a lofty, elegant, gilt-mirrored room that's straight out of an Edith Wharton novel.

The limited menu features sandwiches, entrees and elegant appetizers. Of the three appetizers we tried, the roasted eggplant roulade was outstanding: four small rolls of thinly sliced, pale-lavender eggplant, wilted spinach leaves, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese (not overly goaty, thank goodness) topped with a few roasted red pepper bits and raisins.

A bibb salad was fresh enough, but it lacked the blood-orange slices listed on the menu. A mushroom terrine tasted appropriately woody.

Ordering a hamburger in such an Edwardian space felt sacrilegious, but we suppressed our feelings and thoroughly enjoyed the perfectly prepared chunk of medium-rare beef smothered in cheese and served with wonderful Old-Bay-dusted fries. Also fine was a grilled-chicken sandwich in which melted fontina cheese kept the meat moist and a smear of basil mayo added a little kick.

A large, attractive bowl of penne pasta and blackened chicken provided a solid backdrop for an interesting blend of Parmesan herb-butter sauce and fruity, small oven-dried tomatoes. A crab cake was as meaty as they get around town. Its accompaniment was more of those wonderful Old Bay fries.

Desserts upstairs are the same as those served downstairs, including - we were somewhat surprised to see - a round ball of cheesecake that looked as though it had been scooped from an ice cream carton. It was good, creamy and fluffy enough to hold its own without any of the traditional cracker-crumb crust.

Creme brulee with fresh fruit was too runny, and a square chunk of chocolate bourbon cake tasted more like gingerbread than anything else.

The Tusk Lounge is primarily known as a bar, and from the bar came the best sweets. On this visit, a bartender delivered - on the house - two delicious and reasonably powerful chocolate martinis that he'd invented. On another visit, a different bartender - equally gracious - served the smoothest French martini around, made with framboise and Grand Marnier.

Tusk Lounge

Where: 924 N. Charles St.

Open: For dinner nightly

Prices: Appetizers $4.75 to $5.95; entrees $4.50 to $12.50

Credit cards: AE, D, DC, MC, V

Call: 410-547-8480

Food: * * *

Service * * * 1/2

Atmosphere: * * * 1/2

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