Uneven fare, but pasta's pleasing


At the site of the defunct Attman's Deli, the Brasserie at Pomona Square is a bit of an enigma. With a French chef and a French name, one might assume that the restaurant purveys French food. (You know the old expression about making assumptions. ... ) Surprise, it's Northern Italian.

We first heard about the place from big fans. An elegant dining room, they said. Great food, they added. Other friends warned us away: Its cavernous dining room, on the back side of Pomona Square shopping center, is always empty, and the food is nothing special. Well, maybe they're all right. The dining room is indeed elegant, with pretty pastels, comfortable booths and picture windows -- but it was wildly underpopulated the evening of our visit. As for the food, some of it was very good and some of it wasn't.

The evening's special crab chowder proved agreeable enough as a vegetable soup, floating big hunks of potato and tomato, but only subatomic particles of crab meat. The Caesar salad was resolutely middle of the pack of Baltimore's ever-growing romaine-lettuce sweepstakes. The dressing offered just the right amount of garlicky "pow," but the small squares of floppy romaine undermined its success.

A sophisticated-sounding calamari salad brought a heap of chopped, lemon-marinated squid that might have been spectacular if it had not been over-marinated (the calamari's delicate flavor had been lost, and the texture toughened). The only starter that garnered whole-table raves was a salad of mixed greens surrounded by disks of grilled eggplant and big meaty chunks of portobello mushroom, both redolent of sweet balsamic vinegar.

The kitchen has a deft hand with pasta dishes, but it turns to all thumbs with some other entrees. A special of grilled rockfish was strangely bitter; we quickly traded it in for a delightfully zesty dish of rigatoni with chunks of fresh tuna (a bit overcooked), capers, bits of black olive and a light tomato sauce.

Another pasta dish was simple and utterly satisfying (and a bargain at $7.50). Al dente penne was tossed with velvety ricotta, a little tomato sauce and sweet eggplant. A third dish was like chicken cacciatore served over pasta: mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, herbs and pasta of various shapes married with juicy pieces of chicken breast.

Like the rockfish, our other nonpasta entree was a disappointment. A special of grilled ribeye steak was served flagrantly rare (we asked for medium rare) and paired with a pedestrian vegetable medley. To its credit, the steak was served with a vibrant and intense jus.

Desserts took a few unfortunate turns. A creme caramel was nicely flavored with vanilla and caramelized sugar, but the egg had scrambled, giving the custard a chunky, clotted texture made all the more startling by the addition of fruit bits. An apple pie's lovely sliced-apple filling was cradled in a limp, mushy crust. A pale chocolate layer cake encased in white icing topped with hard chocolate crunchy bits was waxy and uninteresting. The only real postprandial triumphs were a dark, rum-soaked chocolate cake and a decent cup of coffee.

Our table was not presented with a wine list, but the specials menu that evening contained a couple of moderately priced and pleasant wines by the glass, and the house white and red were a cut above that at many other restaurants.

Brasserie at Pomona Square

1700 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville

(410) 484-0476

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: lunch appetizers, $3.25-$3.95, lunch entrees, $3.70-$9.95; dinner appetizers, $3.95-$5.25, dinner entrees, $7.50-$13.95

Pub Date: 12/12/96

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