How to spend $367 for dinner

Norris' expense account

December 11, 2003|By Annie Linskey and John Woestendiek | Annie Linskey and John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

Just how difficult is it to spend $367.10 on dinner for two at a Baltimore restaurant?

Not as hard as you might think, according to Baltimore restaurateurs, including the manager of the very same restaurant where former Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, using an off-the-books expense account, spent that amount on dinner with an unidentified female in January 2002.

Norris was indicted yesterday on charges of misusing Baltimore Police Department funds to pay for affairs with several women, federal prosecutors said.

While paying $360 for two meals might be hard for some to digest, owners and operators of Baltimore's better-known dining establishments say it's not that rare.

At Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, where Norris and "female No. 4" - as his guest was identified in the indictment - manager Elizabeth Streit took a shot at coming up with a $350 dream meal for two.

"Start with a glass of champagne," she said. She chose appetizers for two - beef carpaccio and a spinach and mushroom salad. For the entrees she picked veal chops, served with a bottle of the Balmoral Syrah. Dessert was the cheese plate with a different glass of red wine.

That totaled $250. Streit added one whole fresh Maine lobster, which usually runs about $55. With tax and tip, she was in Norris' ballpark.

According to Zagat's restaurant guide, the average price for dinner in Baltimore is a hair over $30 a person - considerably less than Norris' meal.

"Three hundred and sixty dollars is upper-middle range, to be honest, for a table of two," said Tony Forman, owner of Charleston, considered one of the city's finest restaurants. "If you saw the menu and the wine list, you'd understand very quickly how to get to that amount."

Paying several hundred dollars for a meal is easily accomplished and, as some see it, puts Baltimore in the same league as New York or Washington, when it comes to cuisine.

"I think with the kind of tourism that the city of Baltimore wants to attract, they should be very proud that there are dining opportunities in many price levels. It depends on what wines you order," said Melvin Thompson of the Maryland Restaurant Association. "If you're a teetotaler you'd spend $100; it depends on your taste in food and wine."

Norris, for example, could have spent almost $300 at Fleming's on a bottle of wine alone - the 1999 Opus One Cabernet-Merlot blend.

Of course, not everyone can afford steak and wine.

How many people could Viva House, the Catholic Worker shelter and soup kitchen in Southwest Baltimore, feed for $367?

"At least 367," said co-director Brendan Walsh, in the midst of feeding more than 100 hungry people at his shelter yesterday. "We could easily do a meal for less than a dollar. And a good meal, at that. Today we're doing meat balls and spaghetti, salad and a banana."

Sun staff writers Carl Schoettler and Elizabeth Large contributed to this article.

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