Portions at Smedly's are small, but each little item is lovingly prepared and often just a bit unusual. The day's offerings, written in a rainbow of chalk colors, might include a white chili, made with ground turkey and chili, cannellini beans and a bechamel sauce, or a plate of sliced pears with cubes of several flavorful cheeses. Drinks include the renowned illy brand of coffee and espresso, organic tea and insanely rich sipping chocolate. Board games, newspapers and wireless Internet service encourage lingering, and customers can scrawl their own message on a chalkboard that lines one wall of the narrow space. (KN)
FOR THE RECORD - A review in the fall dining guide published in Thursday's editions incorrectly stated the employment status of Smedly's co-owner Bob Williams. He is an assistant professor at Villa Julie College.
The Sun regrets the error.
6 W. Cross St. -- Federal Hill -- 410-752-1518
After 10 years, SoBo Cafe isn't quite the incredible bargain it was when it first opened, but it still dishes up large quantities of good food for relatively small change. A small but decent wine list is another plus.
This is nouvelle comfort food. Chicken marinated in red wine and pepper, for instance, nestles in chevre cream over pasta.
Starters are minimal, but fresh salads and a slab of mac and cheese are standards on the menu, which changes daily. Folks looking for a filling meal for less than $25 with a glass of wine will probably head straight for entrees like the large and inexpensive Big As Yo' Face Eggplant Lasagna or, a step up, catfish stuffed with shrimp. There will be dessert only if the pastry chef feels like baking.
All in all, the benefits of a meal at SoBo Cafe outweigh the quirky disadvantages. Try to go at an off hour, though. When it's busy, the noise can be headache-inducing. (EL)
10215 Wincopin Circle -- Columbia -- 410-997-6131
Entrees $12.95-$35.95 -- sushisonomd.com
This popular Japanese restaurant can get crowded, especially on weekends, but customers don't seem to mind. While they wait for a table, some take the time to stroll around the Columbia lakefront, visible through the restaurant's large windows. They probably know that once they are seated, their food will arrive quickly, and it will be worth the wait.
Sushi Sono serves teriyaki dishes, elegantly crisp tempuras and fresh, flavorful sushi and sashimi. But it is best known for its elaborate and beautifully presented rolls.
Offerings change daily, but one of the most popular is the Bridal Veil, stuffed with sumptuous lobster salad and wrapped in ultra-thin slices of raw tuna. The dragon roll, another favorite, combines the melt-in-your-mouth crunch of shrimp tempura with a topping of cool white lobster meat.
Round out the meal with a starter of delicate shumai (tiny steamed shrimp dumplings) and a bowl of creamy, mild red bean ice cream for dessert. (KN)
1125 S. Charles St. -- South Baltimore -- 410-752-8409
From the looks of it, not much has changed at Szechuan Restaurant in the past 10 or 15 years. Even the photos of former patrons on the wall look pretty dated. But the menu has an expansive list of Chinese-American favorites and more authentic fare - all made well.
The wine list has about a dozen options, and the sole Chinese beer offered is Tsingtao. For an appetizer, order the cold noodles, which come coated in a thick peanut sauce.
Entrees are fairly inexpensive and are served in sizable portions. Szechuan chicken had tender meat and thin vegetable strips coated in a spicy red-pepper sauce. Meat lovers should try the House Roast Duck, a half-duck cooked so the skin was brown and crisp. It's only $9.50.
Though the menu taped to the front windows of the restaurant might say otherwise, no dessert was offered when we went. (SS)
1711 N. Charles St. -- Station North Arts and Entertainment District -- 410-332-0110
Entrees $2.95-$15.95 -- tapasteatro.net
This bustling cafe nestled next to the Charles Theatre, where small plates of the mostly Mediterranean fare are served with clatter and speed, offers a lot of highly flavored food for not much money.
The cold tapas plate of serrano ham, manchego cheese, tomato and basil is solid, but many of the same ingredients shine when they appear as a bocadillo, or small sandwich. The roasted eggplant with peppers and mint is artful; the sweet peas in tomato sauce and sausage less so. Broiled medallions of moist sea bass are perfectly cooked, but nothing is better than the two grilled lamb chops, dressed with a barbecue sauce made with rhubarb.
There's a smart selection of Spanish and South American wines by the glass; the $17 pitcher of house-made sangria is a bargain, if a bit sweet. The flan and other desserts are not as fine as the savory fare. (RK)
>>>The Wine Market
921 E. Fort Ave. -- Locust Point -- 410-244-6166
Entrees $15-$24 -- the-wine-market.com
The Wine Market isn't cheap - but it's hard to think of a better fine-dining deal than this outpost of South Baltimore industrial chic. The food and wine look and taste more expensive than they are and come with attentive service.