If you're used to Fells Point bar-restaurants that are a bit scruffy but charming (pressed tin ceilings, dark wood, dim mirrors), the Red Star will come as something of a surprise. It's in the gentrified area of the neighborhood, and even after several years looks remarkably new, with lots of glass and brick, blond wood furniture and contemporary art.
The Red Star's biggest drawback is that it's been discovered, so even on a weeknight the dining room and the bar next to it are noisy and crowded. The second-biggest drawback is that there's not a no-smoking area, and everyone seems to smoke. But there are two things that make up for almost anything: the food is imaginative and good, and the waiters are likable and efficient.
If you're under 30, you're going to love this restaurant. Then the waiter won't be embarrassed when he has to explain what "BMF Shrimp Wrapped in Salmon" are (which he did quite delicately by saying that the B stands for "big"). Of course, if you're under 30 he probably won't have to explain.
The shrimp are indeed huge, wrapped in thin slices of smoked salmon with a delicate beurre blanc. It's a lot to do to a shrimp, but it works in a decadent sort of way.
A streak of Tex-Mex runs through the menu, so, for instance, the corn chowder is jalapeno corn chowder. It's a lovely soup, with lots of real cream, corn, crescents of celery and plenty of fire.
You can get spinach and cheese quesadillas, tortillas filled with fresh spinach, feta and mozzarella cheeses, mushrooms and onions. A delicious, fresh-tasting salsa sets them off beautifully.
Most of the menu runs to light fare -- sandwiches, pastas, Boboli pizzas and the like. The more substantial dishes change on a daily basis, depending on what fish are fresh and what's seasonal. The special might be a handsome little rack of lamb with a complex winy sauce and lots of -- perhaps too much -- rosemary. Dinners come with well-seasoned fresh mixed vegetables and a starch: perhaps wild and long grain rice or, with the shrimp, linguine.
The Red Star has a no-frills dessert menu that reads like this: "Fudge cake. Rum cake. Carrot cake. Cheese cake. Brownies." Fudge cake not enough calories for you? Then try the fresh fudgy homemade brownie with a cream cheese frosting and a layer of nuts on top.
This isn't the restaurant for me -- smoke bothers me too much, and the tiny dining room with its dozen or so tables has no place to get away from it. But if that's not a problem, the Red Star is a good place to keep in mind when you want a casual meal but don't want the kitchen to be casual about its cooking.
The Red Star
Where: 906 S. Wolfe St.
Hours: Monday to Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight; Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 3-10 p.m.
Credit cards accepted: AE, MC, V
Features: Casual and regional American
Non-smoking section? No
Call: (410) 327-2212