Rudys' 2900, 2900 Baltimore Blvd., Finksburg, (410) 833-5777. Open Tuesdays to Fridays for lunch and dinner, Saturdays and Sundays for dinner only, closed Mondays. Major credit cards. No-smoking area: yes. Handicapped accessible: yes. Rudys' 2900 has changed with the times, and the change has been a good one -- for the customers and for the business. Rudy Speckamp, one of the area's most visible chefs, and maitre d'hotel Rudi Paul have created a formula for success that works. Who expects a restaurant this expensive to be this busy on a Wednesday night? What's its secret?
Obviously it isn't any one thing. The change I mentioned above is certainly part of it. When Rudys' first opened the food was Continental with a German accent: excellent ingredients but also lots of butter and cream -- dishes with calories literally dripping from them. The kind of food most people can afford to indulge in PTC only every so often.
Now a third of the main courses are designated "heart healthy." And these are dishes that have as much appeal as the tournedos in Madeira cream or the pork chop with fennel-flavored sausage. You could have instead veal scaloppine with artichoke hearts or Cornish game hen and tomato herb couscous -- and feel virtuous without sacrificing an ounce of pleasure. If you could afford to have dinner here every night, you could eat very well indeed without worrying about your health or your weight.
Another reason for the restaurant's success is the combination of homeyness and haute cuisine that people in this area seem to love. Rudys' has it in abundance. The dining rooms are comfortable rather than elegant, with warm peach and soft green colors, flowery wallpaper, banquettes that you can sink into and widely spaced tables. Our waitress was just as down-home, hon, as you could possibly want. The food, however, is anything but.
Rudys' signature dish is a first course of smoked salmon ($7.95), superb smoked fish served with a creamy horseradish sauce, capers, chopped onion and toast. Equally good were the frogs' legs provencale ($7.95), a first course that epitomizes the kitchen's conservative but successful approach to food. They were exactly what you'd expect, which didn't lessen the pleasure they gave: delicate, tender, gold-crusted, with a wonderfully buttery, garlicky sauce. The soup of the day was potato and leek ($3.50), not particularly innovative but an almost flawless version of the classic.
For our main courses we did order one of the heart-healthy choices, so I spoke from firsthand knowledge when I said they are as good as -- for want of a better term -- the more fattening food. Boneless chicken breasts ($14.95) were sauteed in a crust of sesame seeds, lightly sauced with faintly Oriental flavors, then placed on a bed of julienne carrots, zucchini, tiny florets of broccoli and snow peas -- tender but not overcooked.
If you're lucky, sliced veal tenderloin ($19.95) will be a special the night you eat at Rudys'. The slices of veal are tender and full of flavor, their Madeira sauce a subtle and seductive presence. The buttery risotto flecked with fresh corn is absolutely irresistible.
Only the swordfish with melon and pineapple salsa ($19.95) disappointed. The fish was beautifully fresh and cooked perfectly, with a strong smoky flavor. It would have been fine with just the fresh, fruity salsa, but its bath of mustard-tinged cream sauce was too much: too many flavors, too much richness one dish.
Rudys' kitchen does many things well, so that the few glitches we encountered came as a surprise. The most noticeable one was the uninspired salads of romaine, iceberg, cherry tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers and onions. More interesting salads with endive, radicchio, hearts of palm and watercress are offered, but they don't give them away.
There were small errors of judgment as well: A pile of alfalfa sprouts garnishing the frogs' legs made no sense to me. I wouldn't serve a tomato stuffed with corn on the same plate as risotto studded with corn. And at the height of the late-summer vegetable season, the kitchen could have come up with something more interesting than cooked carrots with the swordfish. Finally, Linzer torte always tastes dry to me, so I'm not a good judge, but this one seemed exceptionally thick and dry.
As long as we've gotten onto desserts, I can report with pleasure that Rudys' has a light but deeply chocolate cake swirled with chocolate frosting, full of bits of semisweet chocolate; that you can enjoy blackberries and strawberries with a delicately rich, creamy Romanoff sauce, and that the kitchen produces one of the best tartes tatin around (although I would love to have it warm rather than room temperature).
All in all, a good meal. Not wildly creative, perhaps -- but then the two Rudys must know that a lot of wildly creative restaurants have closed in the nine years since Rudys' 2900 first opened. While their restaurant seems to be doing better than ever.
Next week: Museum Cafe