Jackie's lacks worldly charms


Jackie's Cafe

Where: Omni Inner Harbor Hotel, 101 W. Fayette St.

Hours: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, 6:30 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.

Credit Cards: AE, DC, Discover, En Route, MC, V.

Features: American dishes, light fare.

Non-smoking section? Yes.

Call: 685-8100.

** Jacqueline was sophisticated, dressy and stupefyingly well-traveled; she covered her walls with antique maps and could turn out a mean choucroute garni Alcasienne. Jackie, on the other hand, is perky. She favors garden-party floral prints and likes the latest hit tunes, and her taste in food is contemporary American. Light, fun food and well-bred versions of the old-fashioned blue plate special are her favorite fare.

If the two J's were women, they'd probably never meet. Jacqueline, dressed in Ralph Lauren khakis, would be jetting her way to Kenya while Jackie was playing canasta at the country club. But the two J's are actually restaurants -- indeed, the same restaurant. When the Omni hotel renovated last fall, Jacqueline's Cafe and Bistro was given a face-lift and a name-bobbing and a menu overhaul, and Jackie's Cafe was born.

Too bad. I was a lot more receptive to Jacqueline's worldly charms and distinctive look -- not to mention her multi-ethnic menu -- than to Jackie's tamer beauty, cutesy menu prose, Roland Park-meets-Bennigan's menu, and an irritating Top 40 soundtrack that made me yearn for Little Italy and "Return to Sorrento."

It's a pretty place, to be sure. Our waiter Tyrone was as courtly as he could be. Homemade pastries were artfully elegant. Dinners offer good value, and nothing we tasted was objectionable. But nothing was particularly memorable, either.

For starters we shared a "lite" portion of vegetable tempura ($6.95), which closer resembled fern-bar batter-fried veggies than anything Japanese, but were given an intriguing ethnic spin with a touch of curry cream and a scorching Chinese mustard dip. The soup of the day, black bean ($3.50 bowl) was very good, with a rich, smoked taste and plenty of meat. (I was momentarily mystified by the menu heading "Terrines and Greens," as there wasn't a speck of pate in sight. Then the light dawned: tureens, as in soup!)

The something-for-everyone menu continued with pizza, oversized sandwiches, and "all-day eggs," but my companion and I both decided to go for the blue plate specials, complete with vegetables, rice, soggy but Parmesan-crusted garlic bread, and salads whose dressings unfortunately tasted as if they were made with salad creme, not fresh ingredients.

The entrees, chicken breast with Calvados cream sauce ($10.95) and blackened tuna ($11.95), were, well, nice. Not terrific, but nice. The chicken could have been leaner, the tuna moister. But the former's sauce was rich and sweet, the latter's coating of spices were piquant without carrying out a scorched-earth policy on our palates.

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