Attention to detail pays off at Bistro

Healing Heart is a refuge for grown-ups

Eats: dining reviews, Table talk

April 24, 2003|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Even before our first bite of warm, tender and crusty baguette, we knew we were in for a treat at the Healing Heart Blues Bistro.

Owners Daryl Heinz and Garrett Linvezey have created an oasis of sophistication in an Eldersburg shopping center. The walls are lush purple and mustard, and the steel-colored tablecloths coordinate with the stylish lighting. The warm glow of candles and the cool sounds of mellow jazz, played live most days of the week, complete the mood.

Heinz vows this restaurant, which opened in February, will never have booster seats or a kids' menu. "There are plenty of places like that around here," he says. "I wanted a place that was a refuge."

Drinks are an important part of the equation. For diners who can't choose among the wines, martinis and other drinks, the Blues Bistro offers something called "flights." These are three 3-ounce servings in a single category, such as cabernets or vodka martinis, which arrive in a stylish arc of brushed steel with three holes for the cone-shaped glasses. We had the cabernet, and each wine was more luscious than the one before.

Now, back to that bread. The rounds of French bread were baked on the premises and accompanied by a plate of olive oil with garlic and parmesan.

The rest of the meal showed the same attention to detail, with some dishes succeeding better than others. A "seafood napoleon" appetizer, served cold, featured layers of crisp fried pastry alternating with a chunky salsa of crab, scallop and shrimp with tomatoes, grapes, red onions and a fruity sauce. Though it was a busy dish, it worked.

Another seafood appetizer, sticky rice cakes with lobster, was less interesting, since there wasn't enough lobster to excite the taste buds. A chili sauce drizzled attractively around the plate was more heat than flavor.

A spinach salad with raspberries, walnuts and goat cheese was very fresh, but it could have used a more assertive dressing.

The menu is not long, but its nine entrees manage to pack in a nice mix of innovation and comfort. The standout was the veal chop, an enormous piece of tender, flavorful meat stuffed with a mix of wilted spinach and gruyere cheese. It arrived with a tasty mound of garlic-inflected mashed red-skin potatoes and fat, crisp-tender asparagus.

A dish of lump crab and sweet peppers in a tomato-cream sauce over angel hair was also excellent, but our filet mignon was not as tender as promised. I blame my eating buddy, who insisted on ordering it well-done when everyone knows steaks are supposed to be rare or at most medium-rare.

Desserts, baked in-house, were simply fantastic. Our server brought a tray of goodies to our table, and we selected a blueberry pie with a tender crust, a light, creamy lemon mousse torte, and a chocolate hazelnut truffle torte with a dense, almost fudgey cake topped by creamy, nutty swirls of frosting.

The Blues Bistro also has a coffee bar that opens at 6 every morning and serves fresh pastries and a few sandwiches and salads.

Eldersburg may never be the same.

Healing Heart Blues Bistro

Where: 1207 Liberty Road, Eldersburg

Call: 410-549-6000

Open: Daily for dinner except Tuesday; coffee bar open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers $6-$9; entrees $16-$24

Credit Cards: All major cards

Food: ***

Atmosphere: *** 1/2

Service: *** 1/2

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