Eatery undergoes a sea change

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The folks at the Spanish Meson noticed something curious about the tourists who roamed the streets of their neighborhood in Fells Point: Tourists who came to the shores of the Chesapeake wanted seafood more often than they wanted Spanish cuisine.

And since a lot of their customers were tourists, they decided to accommodate them.

"People from out of town want Maryland seafood," says Maria Luaces-Sajjad, one of the owners.

So they changed the name of the restaurant to the Fishery. They redid the interior with murals of seascapes and crisp white paint. They added a fireplace. They took out the flamenco dance floor and turned that corner into a seafood display. And they changed the menu to specialize in over 20 different kinds of seafood.

But the ownership is the same -- Jose and Faye Luaces, who opened the restaurant back in 1972, and their daughter Maria Luaces-Sajjad, who now manages the restaurant.

The menu includes a mix with a lot of the old standbys: imperial crab, shrimp fettucini, stuffed jumbo shrimp, Maryland lumb crab cakes, blackened shrimp, stuffed scallops, Fishery stuffed oysters, steamed whole Maine lobster, blackened seafood combination, seafood marinera.

Twenty types of fish are offered in a mix-and-match section. The basic preparation is broiled, with a butter lemon sauce and capers. But the fish can also be pan fried, grilled, poached or deep fried. They can come sauced (for a slightly higher price) with bearnaise, hollandaise or garlic sauce. Or they can be stuffed with imperial crab or fixed Cajun style.

For the non-seafood eater, there are a number of beef, veal and chicken entrees including chicken Parmesan and beef tournedos. There are still a half-dozen Spanish dishes on the menu including chicken in garlic sauce, paella valenciana, paella pescador, seafood casserolla, filet of sole with bananas and hollandaise or roast suckling pig served with black beans and rice. Some Italian entrees are scattered throughout the seafood section of the menu.

The chefs are Kamran Sarlak, Carlos Melgar and Roberto Lugo. Mr. Luaces is semi-retired but keeps his hand in by preparing some of the Spanish entrees.

The main dining room and a bar area, which also has a table section offering raw bar items and lighter fare, together seat over 100. Upstairs there is seating for another 90 people with one informal private party room plus two private VIP rooms, the Salvador Dali room, with original Dali prints on the walls, and the El Prado room, with paintings of bullfighters and flamenco dancers.

Carry-out is available and they do on- and off-premises catering.

The restaurant is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. The hours are 11:30 a.m. to midnight Mondays to Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sundays. In the future they plan to search brunch. There is a happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with a light seafood buffet.

The Fishery is located at 1717 Eastern Ave., just past Broadway. The telephone number is 327-9340.

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Cooking videos are a mixed blessing if your VCR is in one room and your stove is in the other. You either have to run back and forth or watch over and over again to memorize the technique before heading into the kitchen.

For some videotapes the cost and the effort haven't been worth it. But occasionally there are those that cover subjects and techniques hard to find elsewhere, and one of those is "Brazilian Cuisine with Yara Roberts".

Ms. Roberts grew up in Belo Horizante in the mountainous state of Minas Gerais in Brazil, but now lives in Boston where she

develops English-language programs for Portugese-speaking residents in the area. She has taught Brazilian cooking &r; throughout the United States and her cooking has been written up in the New York Times and Yankee magazine and featured on nationally televised cooking shows.

In the video she demonstrates the preparation for more than a dozen recipes including the national dish, feijoada; vatapa (an African-influenced dish from the northern region of Bahai); lombo (a marinated lamb dish); shrimp in a pumpkin sauce served in a pumpkin; chicken xim xim (shredded chicken with red and green peppers); Guanabara fish (a seafood version of shepherd's pie); quindim (a glazed egg custard) and mango mousse.

"What sets Brazilian food apart is the surprise of flavors that it contains -- the combination of very unusual tastes," Ms. Roberts says. "I have served it to many people around the world and they are always intrigued. The unusual tastes of Brazilian foods come from a combination of ingredients that, most of the time, are already familiar to American cooks. But the way we use these ingredients is what sets Brazilian cuisine apart. The blend of seafood and coconut milk stewed in a puree of peppers, onions and tomatoes is a delectable one."

The video is not in stores. It is available by mail by sending $19.95 plus $3.95 for shipping and handling to VCA-Video Recipes-C, 50 Leyland Drive, Leonia, N.J. 07695; or by calling (800) 822-1105, operator 58.

A word of warning -- strawberry season arrived early this year and the hot, dry weather has pushed it along at top speed.

If you plan to pick your own, you'd better hurry on out to the strawberry fields. Or if you're just a serious strawberry shopper, you can grab the local berries at good prices now.

Some people think the best recipe for a strawberry is to crawl along a row, select a berry just an hour or so past what a picture book would call perfection, pull it off the stem and pop it in your mouth still warm from the sun.

But others like to mix in a few other ingredients along with their strawberries, and for them we offer a recipe for a gingered rhubarb and strawberry compote. It comes from a new cookbook, "Cobblers, Crumbles & Crisps and Other Old-Fashioned Fruit Desserts" (Clarkson N. Potter, hardcover, $11), by Linda Zimmerman and Peggy Mellody. It's filled with over 120 pages of such things as spiced apple dumplings with Cheddar pastry, blueberry gingerbread buckle and strawberry shortcake, but this recipe seemed just the thing for a 96-degree day.

To serve it, you might want to borrow a gorgeous idea for presentation that comes from another recent book (another one with the word old-fashioned in the title): "Heirloom Herbs: Using Old-Fashioned Herbs in Gardens, Recipes and Decorations (Villard Books, hardcover, $29.95), by Mary Forsell. The author serves her version of a strawberry compote with a spoonful of ice cream in a stemmed glass. But first she runs a cut lemon around the rims of the glasses and dips them in sugar. She garnishes the dessert at the end with long strips of orange zest and sprigs of lemon balm. (You could also use mint.)

Here is a recipe from "Cobblers, Crumbles & Crisps and Other Old-Fashioned Fruit Desserts":

Gingered rhubarb and strawberry compote

Serves six.

1/2 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and quartered

1 pound fresh rhubarb, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 -inch pieces (about 4 cups)

1 tablespoon orange zest

1 pint medium strawberries, hulled and halved

1 tablespoon kirsch (optional)

heavy cream

Bring the water, sugar and ginger to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the rhubarb, bring back to boiling, then lower the heat. Partially cover and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes or until the fruit is soft but retains its shape. Remove from the heat. Gently stir in the orange zest. Cool the mixture to room temperature and stir in the strawberries and kirsch. Chill.

Remove the ginger before serving in goblets topped with heavy cream.

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