The Brass Elephant is gaining one, losing one and catering more


Restaurants are rarely static. Nowhere is that more evident these days than at the Brass Elephant, the grand rowhouse-turned-restaurant on North Charles Street.

By year's end, the Northern Italian dining spot will have gained a chef, lost a partner and expanded its catering.

Matthew Niessner, who worked as a pastry chef there while attending the Baltimore International Culinary College, has returned to run the restaurant kitchen. Executive chef and partner Randy Stahl, meanwhile, is developing the 5-year-old catering operation, which in recent years has thrown parties for many local businesses, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Walters Art Gallery and the American Diabetes Association.

The restaurant recently held a lunch to show off the culinary feats of Mr. Niessner, who previously owned a restaurant in Arizona. Members of the food press were served quite a feast, we hear, including antipasto, paella and a warm fruit compote.

The bad news is that Tom McDonald, a partner for the last decade, is leaving the Brass Elephant and the restaurant business altogether.

After 18 years of the unforgiving pace, Mr. McDonald, 33, says he longs to spend more time with his 2-year-old and 8-month-old.

So he's going from selling food to selling stocks, taking a job as an institutional salesman with Alex. Brown & Sons in January.

His wife, Jami, incidentally, is the marketing director there, and Mr. McDonald has taken a ribbing about his wife getting him the job.

"Of course, she didn't," he says, laughing.

HOT CHEF ALERT: Renowned chef Jean-Louis Palladin will be at the Brass Elephant on February 28, cooking for 185 lucky guests at a benefit for the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland. Mr. Palladin, chef of Jean Louis at the Watergate, will be preparing a seated four-course dinner with the assistance of Mr. Stahl. Expect it to be a culinary happening, particularly since Mr. Palladin was named 1993 Chef of the Year by the prestigious James Beard Foundation.

For information, call (410) 576-2414.

DONNA POURS IT ON: Donna's Coffee Bar is expanding yet again. The cafe in Mount Vernon and Towson is bringing its cappuccino, cookies and biscotti to Saks Fifth Avenue in Owings Mills and Chevy Chase. Through the holidays, partners Donna Crivello and Alan Hirsch will be setting up carts in each store serving espresso-based drinks, Italian sodas and sweets to caffeine- and sugar-deprived shoppers.

FROM PICKLES TO ONIONS: We've heard of sour grapes, but sour onions? The latest venture from Vince Poist, owner of Pickles Pub, is the sushi-serving Sour Onion Cafe, 1120 Hollins St.

You know you've arrived when you see the lemon-yellow door and red neon sign next to Mencken's Cultured Pearl Cafe.

Manager Tom Snyder says there was no grand plan behind the naming of the Sowebo spot.

"We're affiliated with Pickles, so we wanted to keep it in the vegetable family," he says.

The bar menu of snacks, subs and salads carries through on the onion-loving theme, with a bloomin' onion appetizer, a sort of econo-sized onion ring, and "belly bumper" burgers served on dill onion rolls.

MORE MEXICAN: We're always heartened to report more Mexican food in town. For too many years, Baltimore had meager options when the hunger pangs for fajitas hit. Now we hear that El Taquito ("the little taco"), at 1744 Eastern Ave., in Fells Point, is packing them in on the weekends.

Maybe it's the reasonable prices -- entrees range from about $4 to $5.50 -- or the authenticity of the cooking -- the Bravo family, which owns the business, hails from Mexico -- but the lines for chicken enchiladas, lamb tacos and tamales snake out the door some weekends.

If you go, remember to bring along the green stuff. The restaurant doesn't accept credit cards or checks.

WHAT'S COOKING AT PAOLO'S? Or perhaps who's cooking is the better question. The Harborplace restaurant got a new chef recently, John Hubschman, formerly of the Polo Grill.

If Mr. Hubschman's name sounds familiar, perhaps it's because he and his wife, Janey, owned Gelato Cafe in Fells Point during the mid '80s.

Although Mr. Hubschman is limited in expressing his culinary personality on the corporate menu, look for his style to come through in the daily specials. One of his first specials -- braised lamb with rosemary fettuccine and root vegetables -- sounds like a crowd pleaser.

OSCAR JOINS PUFFINS: Puffins, Pikesville's healthful dining alternative, has turned one of its spare rooms into Oscar's Bar & Grill, a non-smoking lounge serving light fare. Entrees are $10 or less here, and so far the Southwestern salad with grilled shrimp, guacamole, grilled sweet potatoes and sunflower seeds has been the favorite.

Oscar, incidentally, happens to be the middle name of Puffins' owner, Don Gorman.

ART FOOD TAKES THE PRIZE: Barry Knotts, a chef at McCafferty's in Mount Washington, has won first place in Food ** Arts magazine's 1993 search for America's best-dressed salad. His Pacific Coast salad features a medley of radicchio, Belgian endive, Granny Smith apples and walnuts in a walnut-raspberry vinaigrette. Although the salad isn't currently on the menu, the restaurant plans to bring it back soon.

COMING SOON: Look for Matsuri, a traditional Japanese restaurant, to open at 1105 S. Charles St. next month. Akio

Tsuhara, who is originally from Tokyo, will be running the place and serving up the tempura, teriyaki and sushi.

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