The Sea Witch is the Admiral Fell Inn's forgotten restaurant. On the one hand, you have Savannah, the high-profile New South dining room in the inn's basement. That takes care of the expense-account and special-occasion customers. On the other, you have the Point. That is the inn's very visible bar, right on Broadway, which serves burgers, sandwiches, salads and omelets. That takes care of the casual eaters.
So who's left to fill the Sea Witch, the Admiral Fell Inn's seafood restaurant?
Well, first you have to find it. Go in and ask at the front desk, and they'll send you back outside and around the corner a couple of doors, as if the restaurant has no relation to the hotel.
You go down a flight of steps to a room that even blue-and-green murals of the sea can't rescue. It's first and foremost a basement bar with a television and a pool table.
This works better than its former incarnation -- a Dutch-style pancake house -- but the inn must have trouble selling the Sea Witch as anything more than a bar. Still, this is where you'll eat dinner as part of the inn's Valentine getaway package, which includes a three-course prix-fixe menu of oysters and champagne, lobster or medallions of beef and dessert.
And in spite of the setting, it's a pretty good seafood restaurant, with excellent service delivered to us by a nice-guy waiter. Prices are moderate, so expect to get what you pay for. That means, for instance, you should stay away from the crab cake if you like back fin or lump crab meat. The crab cake was nicely seasoned, but didn't have much crab flavor. The same mixture worked better as stuffing for sweet, tender shrimp.
Also, only very small oysters were available that evening. Eat them raw on the half shell, or have them in oyster stew. They made a wonderful milky stew, tender and with lots of flavor, but they should never have been fried. They got lost in the beer batter.
The clams were small, too. (Our waiter said he felt as if they were robbing the cradle.) But they were delicious baked with garlicky butter and a curl of bacon.
Even with the too-small fried oysters and the lumpless crab cake, the seafood combination platter was a bargain at $14.95. The flounder fillet was fresh and not overcooked, likewise the scallops; and the shrimp were great. I liked the fact that some of the items were broiled (the scallops and shrimp) and some fried, which gave it a little variety.
Most of the menu is very traditional stuff, with a raw bar, bar food like potato skins, and entrees that include ribs and barbecued chicken as well as seafood. But smoked bluefish as a starter was an unexpected treat. The chunks of peppery fish come on a bed of greens with capers and mustard-sparked mayonnaise.
What sets the Sea Witch apart from many bar-restaurants, though, is the fact that it's also a hotel's dining room. You don't always, for instance, get perfectly cooked broccoli and cauliflower from a bar's kitchen. Or crisp waffle fries instead of french fries, and deliciously seasoned rice. Or most notably, desserts like the Sea Witch's fresh, creamy cheesecake and the Queen Mother's torte (deeply chocolate, wicked as sin and decorated with a swirl of real whipped cream).
In my review of Troia the Bistro at the Walters, I described the old decor as "stark and white and architectural." Ted Pearson of Rita St. Clair Associates, which redesigned the dining room, pointed out that the color was actually what he calls a "dull medium grey." My mistake, and my apologies.
Where: 1636 Thames St.
Hours: Open every day for dinner; on the weekends open at 2 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-$5.95; entrees, $6.95-$14.95. Major credit cards
Call: (410) 522-0495
Pub Date: 2/09/97