Whoever heard of restaurants opening ahead of schedule? It's surprising but true for two eagerly awaited spots in town.
Celebrated chef Michel Richard's Citronelle and the historic Eager House made their quiet debuts in the past week or so, despite earlier reports that they wouldn't open until March.
Michel Richard will be at the Latham Hotel restaurant for the next few days, and insiders are expected to clamor for tables 17 and 18, the best in the house for watching him work in the exhibition kitchen.
The Edwardian ambience of the former restaurant, the Conservatory, has been replaced by casual California decor -- hunter green wicker chairs, suspended canvas umbrellas and creamy ecru linens. (For those hankering to take a bit of Citronelle home, the restaurant is planning to sell products, including pepper grinders, T-shirts and Mr. Richard's cookbook, due out this spring.)
A peek at the new menu reveals foie gras roulade, roast veal loin with garlic potatoes and chocolate creme brulee -- dishes that have become signatures at Mr. Richard's Santa Barbara Citronelle.
Look for Baltimore's executive chef Anthony Pels Jr. to offer prix fixe and pretheater specials as well. (The restaurant won't open for lunch until early March, he says.)
After a year of extensive renovations, the Eager House, a Baltimore institution for 30 years, has reopened as a sprawling restaurant complex, with a supper club, rustic loft, clubby back room and tavern. The Gaslamp Club, a lounge serving light fare, is expected to open in March, according to owner Ernest "Murph" Murphy.
Mr. Murphy, a Harvard-educated economist, is determined to keep diners' wallets in mind by having entrees in the $8 to $16 range. Yet the regional American cuisine served by executive chef Christopher Golder seems as expansive as the building itself; vegetarian dishes, heart-friendly entrees and good old steak dot the menu.
The basil, rosemary and thyme being used have an unusual source: Mr. Murphy's own garden in Columbia.
"Now I don't have to feel guilty when I can't use them all," he says with a laugh.
Canton is heating up as a hot spot for dining these days. The successful Weber's on Boston is facing competition from two new kids on the block, Speakeasy and Fressia.
During Prohibition, Speakeasy lived up to its name. Now, however, the building has been turned into an upscale bar and restaurant with an eclectic menu featuring crab in pesto sauce over angel hair pasta and rack of lamb with a herb mustard crust.
Credit for the food goes to chef Richard Smith, a Maryland native with an unusual food background. Among his previous jobs: working in Oregon bistros, San Diego hotels and a gourmet supermarket in Arizona.
For the decor, owners Gus and Bill Vasilakopoulos blended the old and new, retaining the original pressed tin ceiling while adding a mahogany bar and hand-painted murals.
By next month, Fressia, a New American restaurant, should also be open, says George Kotsaris, one of the owners. Mr. Kotsaris has no qualms about facing competition in the area.
"It's a classy neighborhood," he says. "There's plenty out there for everybody."
That sentiment is being echoed by Thomas Giuffre, head chef and partner in the family-owned Portofino. His month-old restaurant in Scarlett Place (where Scarlett Cove Cafe once was) is going head-to-head with well-entrenched restaurants in Little Italy.
His secret: bread that he and his family travel to Manhattan to get.
Speaking of traveling, several chefs from Carlos' restaurant in Illinois will be at the Brass Elephant on March 2 for the second annual Chef's Dinner to benefit the Child Abuse Prevention Center.
Carlos', a French restaurant, was ranked alongside Le Cirque, the Four Seasons and Le Lion d'Or as one of the top 25 restaurants in America by Food & Wine magazine last year, so guests who spend $150 each should be in for a treat. For more information, call (410) 576-2414.
And last, there's good news for pizza lovers needing a fix near the ballpark. By the start of baseball season, the mother-daughter team of Edie and Stacey Weiss plan to open Camden's, a carryout serving pizza, subs and salads.
They've secured a prime spot across from the stadium between Pickles Pub and Sliders Bar & Grill.
"It's going to be so Baltimore," says Stacey, "big slices of pizza
and overstuffed cheese steak subs."
Have news about local restaurants, chefs or clubs? Call (410) 332-6156 or write the Real Dish, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.