Fells Point bistro still finding its way; Restaurant: Dining is uneven at Gemini, but the potential is there.; SUNDAY GOURMET


I usually wait a month or so before I pay a new restaurant an official visit. I like to give it time to settle down. But after a month the new Gemini Bistro isn't doing much settling down. It's already on its second chef and has a different menu from when I stopped by for a bite soon after it opened.

When four of us ate at Gemini recently, I found that Brigitte Bledsoe, who had been in the kitchen when it opened in August, had been replaced by Allison Dugdale, known locally for her work as the chef at John Steven Ltd. and before that Foster's Oyster Bar, both in Fells Point.

Gemini is located in the space that used to house Mike's Bar. The new owners, Theo and Chris Solomonides, are twins, which is why it's called Gemini.

The Solomonides brothers did the renovating of the building themselves. It looks good, but too bare. The downstairs is mostly one long bar, a few tables in back and a lot of exposed brick. It simply doesn't lure customers into the spare but pretty dining room upstairs.

That's too bad, because the restaurant has potential. The current menu is shorter, a little more mainstream and a little less expensive than the old one. Some of the food is fabulous. Alas, some of the food is not so fabulous.

Take the good, fresh piece of salmon, nicely grilled. It was covered with cooked onions, perhaps with, perhaps instead of the promised lemon dill beurre blanc -- who could tell?

Zucchini stuffed with bulgur wheat, mushrooms and goat cheese had been baked so it was almost charred on top. It was swimming in a lake of tomato sauce. The whole thing tasted OK, but it looked unappetizing. A 10-ounce sirloin steak, which was supposed to come with ziti, arrived with pilaf, which wasn't even one of the choices of side dishes. Not only that, it was a fine, fat piece of tenderloin, not sirloin. No one was complaining -- it was a great piece of meat sauced with a smooth mushroom cream -- but I like to know about substitutions in advance.

In spite of the owners' Greek heritage, Gemini's menu isn't particularly Mediterranean. But you can get chicken brochettes grilled with red pepper and onions. The cucumber yogurt sauce gives the skewer a bit of pizazz.

More intriguing was the Greek-inspired phyllo appetizer. The flaky pastry triangle had a hot, soft filling of crab meat, artichoke hearts and feta cheese. A pretty red pepper coulis decorated it.

The soup of the day, tomato basil, delivered good, fresh flavor, but it was too much like the tomato basil sauce that appeared on the baked zucchini. In fact it was exactly like it.

If the table wants to order just one starter to share, the hummus isn't bad, although it looks a little silly huddled in a radicchio leaf with olive halves stuck in it. But a better choice is the calamari, fried so lightly and so grease-free the crisp golden rings practically float into your mouth. With it comes a tangy aioli (garlic mayonnaise) flavored with Kalamata olives.

Dugdale had just baked baklava for dessert, our waitress told us. It was good, particularly served with thin orange slices that perfumed the air. But even better was her tangy-sweet plum tart, a welcome change from the endless carrot cakes, death-by-chocolates and cheesecakes you find on most restaurants' pastry trays.

Gemini Bistro

Food: ** 1/2

Service: ***

Atmosphere: **1/2

Where: 710 S. Broadway.

Hours: Open daily for dinner; Friday, Saturday, Sunday for lunch.

Prices: Appetizers: $5-$8; main courses: $9-$18. Call: 410-342-8711

Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or even: **; Poor:*

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