Prime Rib, Calvert and Chase streets, (410) 539-1804. Open every night for dinner. Major credit cards. No-smoking area: yes. Wheelchair accessible: no. Prices: appetizers, $4-$20; entrees: $15-$39.
The Prime Rib is, after all, just a steakhouse. Why, you may ask, are people willing to spend $100 for two for a meal they could duplicate fairly easily at home?
Let me count the reasons.
In contrast to the simplicity of the food, this is still -- after all these years -- Baltimore's most glamorous restaurant: the black walls with touches of gold, the seductive oil paintings and posters, the etched glass and plush carpeting. A glittering bar. Candlelight, of course, and live music. A huge bouquet of flowers in the ladies' room that probably cost more than my wedding bouquet.
The tables are too close together, the lights are so dim you may not be able to read the menu, and the music prevents quiet conversation, but it's still a sensuous setting.
Anything ordered from the bar is flawless. A kir royale will be made with a decent sparkling wine and only a drop or two of creme de cassis, and the bartender won't forget the twist of lemon.
The black-tied waiters not only serve the food and clear the table unobtrusively, they have that wonderful ability to act as if a comment made in an alcoholic haze was the wisdom of the ages. Can he take away your plate? Thank you, he says fervently. You think the smoked trout should have been served with toast points? What a wonderful idea. He'll tell the chef.
When you open a package of bread sticks, he notices as hpasses by and whisks the cellophane away. You didn't like the bread pudding much? He insists on taking it off the check.
Of course, you could ask why this glamorous a restaurant is serving bread sticks in cellophane, or for that matter bread pudding made from what looks like leftover rolls. But those are minor details. What the restaurant is known for -- its gorgeous beef and, yes, seafood -- is so impeccably done that you forget the rest.
The prime rib is a carnivore's dream: a huge slice of rosy, richly flavorful beef draped over a large plate, accompanied only by a decorative grating of horseradish. (While considering the comparatively moderate cost of the entrees, don't forget that everything is a la carte.)
As for the fish, when people ask me to recommend a seafoorestaurant I can never think of a better answer than the Prime Rib (which, as you can imagine, takes them aback). The choices are limited, but choice is overrated. Here you can get rockfish that tastes as if it were caught that day, the tender flesh cooked firm and sweet. You can have it stuffed with enormous snow-white lumps of crab meat or bathed in a "vielle maison" sauce of tomatoes, onions and capers.
I personally would stick to the beef or fish, but the Prime Rib alshas prime lamb. An individual rack was as good a cut as you'll find, but it didn't have the full flavor of the beef, it wasn't charred and ours wasn't quite as pink as ordered.
As for first courses, I recommend the smoked trout. The PrimRib gets fresh trout and smokes it in-house. Its salty-smoky sweetness makes for a superb first course with a garnish of chopped egg, onion, capers and a Dijon mustard sauce. Or you could start with the escargots, which are hot, tender little mouthfuls plump with butter and garlic. Crab bisque was a bit thick, but delicious in its simplicity: thickened cream with a few huge lumps of crab meat. None of our starters was complicated, but the kitchen has the sense not to tart them up.
The disappointments of the evening were the salads -- eversteakhouse should have great salads. The dressing of a pretty Caesar salad with homemade croutons was so garlicky it tasted bitter. A special that evening, tomatoes and Vidalia onions, was prettily arranged with fresh basil leaves, but the dressing was sugary sweet. And the house salad contained chopped hard-boiled egg -- not really what I want in a dinner salad.
You can get a variety of a la carte side dishes -- and we did -- buon my own I'd be perfectly happy with just the Greenberg potato skins. These are the creme de la creme of potato skins. Once you've had them, you'll turn up your nose at all the imitations loaded with Cheddar cheese and bacon bits. They were au naturel, crisp, not greasy and lightly salted.
Actually, the fresh spinach is pretty wonderful, too, gentlseasoned and not at all bitter. But baby asparagus spears and broccoli were overcooked, and the stuffed potato is for blue cheese lovers only.
Somehow no matter how much you've indulged in well-marblebeef and cheese-stuffed potatoes at the Prime Rib, there's always room for dessert. And I'm not talking about sorbet or fresh berries. I'd vote for the lightly chocolate, chocolate mousse pie, which pretends delightfully that it's not richly decadent. Or you can go whole hog with a double-chocolate cheesecake and die happy.
What I wouldn't order is the bread pudding, which looked -- antasted -- like our dinner rolls baked with a little custard and a lot of liquor.
Even after the bread pudding was taken off our check, oudinner averaged $50 a person. And we didn't drink much. (The Prime Rib, by the way, makes an effort to present an affordable wine list. By special-occasion standards, that is.) The problem is that with everything a la carte it's easy to run up the bill without noticing. But then you don't go to the Prime Rib if you're worried about the cost.
' Next: Manor Tavern