Saffron changes menu, decor

TABLE TALK

May 17, 2006|By SLOANE BROWN

Fans of the late, lamented South Baltimore eatery Soigne have reason to celebrate. And a place to do that celebrating. Soigne chef/co-owner Edward Kim is back in Baltimore, in a new partnership and restaurant.

After a brief stint at D.C.'s Mercado, Kim has joined forces with Tony Chemmanoor to give his Indian fusion restaurant Saffron a makeover.

"D.C. was a little cold for me. I really missed Baltimore, the warmth of the people here," Kim says.

As Kim becomes executive chef/partner at Saffron, Indian fusion is a thing of the past. Modern American - Kim's forte - is in. In both looks and taste.

Kim says he and Chemmanoor didn't have to do much to give the restaurant a contemporary look. They just needed to tone it down. Take away the Indian artifacts, paintings and rugs. Add a "little white and some minimalism." The vivid colors there already lent it a certain Le Cirque 2000 look. Voila. Modern American.

The menu was a different matter. It got a complete overhaul. The list of 13 starters includes seared smoked N.Y. steak salad with corn, black beans, asparagus and chimichurri sauce ($9); and seared foie gras, scallop and duck confit with caramelized mango and rum-butter reduction ($14).

You'll find entrees such as grilled tenderloin of ahi tuna in miso with pad Thai and cucumber salad ($22); and grilled New Zealand rack of lamb with napoleon of summer squash and portobello, charred asparagus and balsamic butter and fig syrup ($28).

We did say fans of Soigne would have something to celebrate - like the reappearance of some of Kim's signature dishes: his appetizer of seared white tuna sashimi with miso reduction, truffle oil and carpaccio ($12) or his panko crab-and-shrimp cake with a lobster-infused couscous salad, garlic spinach and citrus aioli ($22).

There are also a half-dozen pastas and a handful of soups, salads and desserts. And that's just for spring and summer. Kim says he will change his menu seasonally.

Another signature of his - the omakase dinner - also returns. Kim says the concept began at New York City's Nobu restaurant. "It's a Japanese version of a French tasting menu with extremities." Chef's choice. Six to eight courses. To indulge, you must commit (read: leave a credit-card number in case you bail) to an omakase reservation at least a week in advance for a party of six to 12 people.

Saffron, 410-528-1616, is at 802 N. Charles St. It's open 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Kim says the restaurant also will open for weekday lunch and weekend brunch in the not-too-distant future.

New looks

Speaking of makeovers, Baltimore restaurateur Steve DeCastro has given a couple of his hangouts a bit of a lift.

Babalu Grill, at 32 Market Place, has added a few warmer colors and - more importantly for the eating-out crowd - curtains. They hang between the dining area that turns into a dance floor later at night and the dining area that stays a dining area.

Manager Michael Buchanan says he and his staff are paying special attention to people who like to "linger" over their dinners by placing those customers farther away from the nightclub section.

Meanwhile, around the corner and above the Ruth's Chris Steak House at 600 Water St., the Havana Club has lightened up. The layout is the same, but the floors, ceilings and walls are all lighter and brighter, to make it a little more feminine-friendly.

Not to worry, gentlemen. The deep leather armchairs and couches are still there, along with the pool-table corner. There's even an added attraction - a hookah, the now-trendy Middle Eastern water pipe. You choose from a menu of flavored tobaccos. Meanwhile, the more familiar menu of food offers a light-fare selection from both Ruth's Chris and Babalu Grill.

If you have information regarding a local restaurant's opening, closing or major changes, please e-mail that information to sloane@sloanebrown.com or fax it to 410-675-3451.

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