Restaurant Review

Trapeze: Trendy, upscale

September 10, 2006|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Food: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

Service: *** (3 stars)

Atmosphere: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)

On a hot evening toward the end of summer, the mostly vacant office and retail complex at Maple Lawn had a post-apocalyptic feel. The streets, like the storefronts, were brightly lit but empty. A warm breeze swirled a couple of dried leaves on the otherwise-spotless sidewalk.

It was good to know that a few survivors were making merry in Trapeze, a restaurant brought to you by the same folks who manage Bluestone in Timonium and Nottingham in Columbia.

When you walk in, the first thing you notice is a stainless steel wall of wines. (It's a decorative element, not retail shelving.) To the left is the bar-lounge, where you must insist on sitting. The whole place is smoke-free, so that's not a problem. Here the lights are dim and it has a cozy feel, although the space is large, with a high ceiling and lots of glass.

Do not let the hostess lead you into the large dining room behind the wall with colorful glass insets. It looks like an upmarket Denny's, with bare wood tables and too-bright lights. That's fine if you're coming with your kids (although I can't see kids enjoying this expensive New American menu), but it's not fine for an adults' night out. The couple who arrived after us took one look and insisted on being taken back to the bar area.

There's no story behind the name Trapeze except that the owners liked it; and there's nothing, thank goodness, in the way of circus decor except bright color.

This is a restaurant working hard to be on trend: Vegetarian requests are honored. Cell phones are to be turned off or put on vibrate. If only. Bottles of wine are half-priced on Wednesday; the list favors California.

Bread is available by request (although our nice waiter brought it without asking; we must not have looked like we were on the South Beach diet). Sauces are made with of-the-moment ingredients like pomegranate syrup. And the menu gives you more information about the ingredients' origins than you need to know: "Korobuta pork chops. A Snake River Farms product, raised on small family farms in the Midwest."

The emphasis is on seafood, with a few steaks and chops. Some of the food is quite good. But the kitchen needs to work on making it look as good as it tastes. Take those pork chops, for example. Tender and juicy, they had a lovely, smoky flavor, accented by their mustard-onion chowchow. But the chops were brown, the chowchow was brown, and the potato hash was brown. There were large heaps of everything. The garnish of wilted greens helped only a little.

That same hash, cooked with mushrooms and bacon, surrounded the fat cornmeal-crusted sea scallops, which had a sauce delicately scented with truffles. The fried oysters, which involved a little too much fried and not quite enough oyster, were placed on a bed of fried julienne leeks, which also created quite a brown plate.

Was everything we ordered going to turn out to be brown?

No. Chilean sea bass, beautifully fresh and moist, had a pretty sauce of shrimp, tomato chunks and cream. Red-skinned potatoes flanked it. Well-cooked boneless chicken breasts lay on perfectly steamed jewel-green asparagus. Too bad the golden mango salsa they were topped with was mushy.

Some dishes are so good that you don't notice the presentation. I'm thinking of a smooth shrimp and corn bisque, rich with cream, and two fried green tomatoes - a light, crusty gold - with large lumps of crab and a lemon beurre blanc. This, apparently, is a signature dish.

In theory, Trapeze's desserts should be irresistible because they involve all the right ingredients. Take the chocolate caramel pecan cake. I liked this fudgy concoction, but someone in the kitchen went wild with the caramel and chocolate sauces, giving the plate the look of a Jackson Pollock painting. Not to mention the whipped cream and strawberry garnish. The same could be said of what was probably the best of the offerings, the strawberry shortcake, and the one I liked least, the banana nut ice cream cake. (I couldn't appreciate it because I don't like the flavor of banana ice cream, but no one else at the table cared much for it either.) Your best bet is to tell yourself beauty is only skin deep and focus on the taste of the desserts.

I'd be less picky if Trapeze were less pricey. There are some excellent dishes here, but when entrees are mostly in the $20 to $30 range I'm not very forgiving. Trapeze's sister restaurant Bluestone turned itself around after a less-than-stellar start; I'm hoping Trapeze will too.

elizabeth.large@baltsun.com

Podcasts of Elizabeth Large's reviews can be found at baltimoresun.com/large.

Trapeze

Address:

8180 Maple Lawn Blvd., Maple Lawn, near Fulton

Hours:

Open Monday-Friday for lunch and nightly for dinner

Prices:

Appetizers, $5.50-$11; entrees, $19-$32

Call:

301-498-4411[Outstanding: Good: Fair or uneven: Poor:]

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