Getting it right - and with flair

Trapeze, a new place in Maple Lawn, is modern but welcoming

sophisticated but family-friendly

Restaurant Profile

April 28, 2006|By SHEILA YOUNG | SHEILA YOUNG,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The name may be Trapeze, but Howard County's hottest new restaurant brags that it is "circus-free" - and it is. Already a big draw in a new, mostly empty retail/office center in Maple Lawn, Trapeze gets everything just right without tricks and without being cutesy.

The place is sophisticated but family-friendly. Decor is modern (high ceilings, huge windows) but welcoming (wood, warm lighting, comfortable seating in the lounge). Servers are young and hip but professional. And the food - best of all the food - is imaginative and complex but still accessible.

Trapeze is larger than it looks. Another dining room is blocked off by a wall decorated with geometric glass insets. One seating area - with generous-size booths, a small banquette and individual tables - runs alongside the bar. That presents a noise problem in many restaurants, but Trapeze uses a high dividing wall to great effect - we could not see the bar TVs from where we were sitting, and the crowded, lively happy hour lounge area is set off in front.

The restaurant specializes in seafood, "delivered daily from markets around the world." That's a tough act for a busy place, but Trapeze pulls it off well. All the fish in our various dishes tasted just-caught and perfectly cooked. Complex sauces accompanied and complemented each course. Portions are generous - and compliments go to the kitchen for not being stingy with those wonderful sauces. Presentation of every dish had flair without requiring a blueprint to figure out how to start eating. And the seasoning of all our courses was just right. Even if you are a salt freak, as I am, hold off until you taste: No dish was salty, but no dish needed extra salt.

We started with " `Stone' Shrimp," fried green tomatoes and a soup special, cream of crab.

The shrimp dish was the star - a high slice of grilled bread with four very large dangling shrimp and a pink garlic cream sauce cascading over all. The timing has to be right for this dish to work - the bread warm and crusty on the outside and soft enough on the inside to soak up the sauce, the shrimp still warm but not overdone. Trapeze pulled it off brilliantly, and this was one of our favorites.

We liked the crispy coating on the fried green tomatoes and the generous helping of crab that topped each one, but thought the lemon butter sauce lacked the tart zing that would have played so nicely against the tomatoes and crab. And the soup, though velvety and plumped with crab, tasted just a little floury. But these are quibbles, and we would try both dishes again.

For entrees, all the selections sounded appealing and interesting. We agonized over choices that included "Black Pearl Salmon," Crisfield seafood stew or "Line-Caught Atlantic Swordfish" stuffed with lump crab and fresh mozzarella and laced with a tomato-chive beurre blanc. Maybe next time.

Meat-eaters get their due also. There is a strip steak from cattle raised in Sparks that comes with secret "T-1" sauce, a South Dakota beef filet and pan-roasted free-range chicken.

In the end, my friend opted for a grilled pork chop served with apple compote, a cider reduction sauce and white cheddar mashed potatoes. I chose a Chilean sea bass, pan-seared and served with a tomato/shrimp cream sauce.

The sea bass was exquisite. The menu promises "melt-in-your-mouth flavor" and "large, thick flakes." Kudos for truth in advertising, for the sea bass was all of those: perfectly pan-seared to leave the flavor intact, and so tender that each bite separated with the barest touch of a fork. The sauce was a perfect companion - not exactly needed for the wonderful fish, but a silky accessory that made the fish more fun.

My friend's pork chop would please any serious meat-eater. Large, thick and juicy, it barely needed the cider reduction and spiced apple topping. But as with the fish, their flavors enhanced the pork. The white cheddar potatoes were so rich and such a standout they could have been an entree in their own right, but they also matched well with the meat and the apples.

Desserts are all "house made," according to the menu. Peanut butter pie sounded appropriately decadent: chocolate cookie crust, fluffy peanut butter filling layered with chocolate fudge, sauced with vanilla anglaise and chocolate. (Again, for next time!)

But then we saw "Triple Chocolate Mousse." Though we both love chocolate, my friend had a dangerous look in her eye, so I gave way and let her order that.

I loved my choice, but the mousse was special. It looked like a chocolate castle, so it was fun: Three different chocolate mousses - dark, milk and white - were stacked on top of a "ground floor" Oreo crust to form a small tower.

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