FILLING BASKETS WITH GOODIES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Susan Lauffer believes you can please all of the people all of the time. All you have to do is give them food.

Now maybe she's on to something here. Most of us -- when pushed -- would have to admit that chowing down rates among our favorite activities. And if you give someone enough different kinds of food -- in a food basket, for instance -- the chances of presenting them with at least something they like would seem to be pretty good.

At least that's what Ms. Lauffer has in mind with her new shop, Baskets of Taste, on Charles Street downtown.

It's a gourmet shop with a focus on gift giving.She's filled it with all kinds of specialty food items like coffees and teas, candies, jams and jellies, sauces, crackers and cookies, oils, vinegars and seasonings -- plus baskets, tins, special bags and other containers to put them in. There are also a number of little non-edible gifts -- accessories and toys and kitchen utensils -- to round out the basket.

You can buy one of the many standard baskets -- there's a coffee assortment, a complete dinner for two, a tea assortment, a Tex-Mex collection, a breakfast basket, a basket for kids and others. There's even a basket shaped and painted like a house, filled with gourmet pantry staples and kitchen utensils, for housewarming presents.

You can also get a custom basket, Ms. Lauffer says, by picking out items in the shop. Or you can call in an order and specify the kinds of items to include.

Ms. Lauffer, lives in Rockville and previously managed Williams-Sonoma stores in Tyson's Corner and White Flint. She visited the downtown area and decided there was a niche for a gift basket store.

She and her staff do a large business in corporate gifts as well as gifts for individuals. They can ship food gifts anywhere in the country.

Currently their hours are Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. But as the holidays draw closer, they will expand their hours on Saturdays and also open on Sundays during the weeks before Christmas.

Baskets of Taste is at 315 N. Charles St. The telephone number is 385-1485.

*

It goes beyond Italian, beyond Greek, beyond French or Spanish even Moroccan, says Michael Dalesio. When you go to the coastline anywhere along the Mediterranean, the cuisine turns magical.

"It's like a cuisine unto itself that's not like Italian or Greek," he says. "It's very healthy and there's a tremendous variety in the cooking."

He's trying to capture that particular sun-warmed cuisine in his new restaurant, Michael's Riviera Grill, at the top of the Brookshire Hotel downtown at 120 E. Lombard St.

Last November, Mr. Dalesio and his wife Cindy sold the Little Italy restaurant bearing the family name to Paul Oliver, who continues to operate it as Dalesio's of Little Italy. They wanted to look for a larger place. They found it in the space that used to be JaFe.

"This turned out to be ideal for us," he said. "We have a larger

kitchen so we can equip it with sophisticated things in order to expand our menu. And our dining room here has a beautiful view of the city and the harbor."

Mediterranean cuisine has an emphasis on fresh seafood, fresh herbs and produce, he says. Many dishes are grilled or roasted. And while the Dalesios added a few spa cuisine selections to their sophisticated Italian menu six years ago at their former restaurant, here almost the entire menu is built around spa cuisine. There is very little use of salt, sugar and eggs. The meats are lean and the stocks are thickened by reduction. Olive and hazelnut oils are used instead of butter.

The menu includes their signature dish, Michael's shrimp: shrimp sauteed with shallots, scallions, red pepper, wine, cream and mushrooms. Other items include gazpacho, Mediterranean-style grilled peppers, linguine with fresh baby clams in a wine garlic sauce, several grilled fish specials, Tuscan-style veal chop, homemade spinach fettuccine with pesto and grilled scallops served over red bell pepper sauce, and a bouillabaisse.

Fruit and cheese are served as a complimentary ending to the meal. There is also a selection of pastries. The house wines are red and white sangria and each night six to eight wines are available by the glass.

The Dalesios are in the process of redecorating, slowly adding warm colors and touches to the dining rooms. The main room holds 100 people, the lounge and bar area have another 40 seats. There is a large private room that holds 50 to 75 and another two that hold 15 to 30 people.

Michael's Riviera Grill is open for breakfast from Mondays through Fridays, 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Lunch is served Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.Dinner is Mondays through Thursdays from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Sundays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Light fare is available until midnight or 1 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

A brunch is served on Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. In addition to the usual brunch offerings, there is a spread of international cheeses, fruits and salads plus flaming crepe desserts.

There is free valet parking. Patrons can stop on Lombard Street in front of the hotel, walk in and give their keys to the bellman in the lobby and then take the elevator to the restaurant. The telephone number is 547-8986.

* James Beard's classic memoir with recipes, "Delights and Prejudices" (Collier Books, $12.50), has just been re-released in a paperback edition.

In the forward, food writer and restaurant consultant Barbara Kafka (a long-time friend of Beard) writes, "If we want to find the true voice of Beard, the preeminent American cookery writer, we must turn to this lovingly written book."

There are more than 150 recipes tucked here and there in a text that tells stories from his childhood in Oregon, his travels abroad, his trips to market, his entertaining and his teaching.

Ms. Kafka writes: ". . . this book is like a conversation we wish we might have had with him, a sharing. Conversation with him could range from what we cooked the night before -- little inventions and changes or epiphanies about how something might be cooked or seasoned -- to restaurants just visited, a book read, an opera heard, people talked to, political and environmental concerns, the enjoyment of one of those rare new cookbooks that made a real contribution, or bits of James' culinary memories."

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