Food is more than a supporting role at high-style Planet Hollywood


You remember Planet Hollywood, don't you?

The restaurant chain? Bruce Willis is a part-owner? The movie memorabilia-laden eatery that came to Baltimore 16 months ago after opening in the 30 or so cities the owners ranked as higher priorities?

Is any of this sinking in?

The last thing a media-savvy "concept" restaurant needs is to lose the limelight, but that appears to have happened to Planet Hollywood since the Florida-based company filed Chapter 11 last month and closed 10 of its 32 restaurants (Baltimore's not included).

If the modest crowd on a recent Thursday night at Baltimore's Planet Hollywood is any barometer (it was so Dullsville, management closed the second-floor dining room and fed everyone around the first-floor bar), bankruptcy has not been kind to the box office.

And that's a shame because Planet Hollywood's food is actually better than what can be found on the tables of many of its Inner Harbor competitors. While not exactly groundbreaking -- think nachos, turkey clubs and grilled salmon -- the menu has plenty of stars of at least B-list caliber. Think Susan Lucci.

The biggest star, of course, is not the food at all, but the atmosphere. It makes one wonder where all these Hollywood props, photos, and costumes went before they invented these places. A really big yard sale in Bel Air?

But here they are displayed all over the place amid the leopard-print decor and big-screen TVs blasting movie clips. From "Titanic" to "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," there's a little something for everyone.

You would expect food to take a supporting role in a place like this, but some attention has been paid. The Parmesan spinach dip appetizer is a cut above the usual Cuisinart-blended slush, with fresh-tasting spinach and slices of mushroom.

Onion rings served with a bacon ranch dip were exceptionally crunchy and hot, an ideal finger food. Less successful was the fire-grilled flatbread -- too much mozzarella and too little tomato and basil on the char-grilled crust.

Also take a pass on the Caesar salad -- the small bowl of romaine wore too light and bland a dressing for a true Hollywood production.

But now -- drum roll, please -- our nominee for best cuisine in a starring role: grilled ahi tuna on a salad with a soy mustard vinaigrette. Tuna strips, hot and still pink on the inside, on a cool, perfectly seasoned salad. Outstanding.

Also excellent was a penne with tomato sauce and garden vegetables. Like the tuna, it was a daily special -- evidence that the restaurant's chef, Donald Moore, who transferred from the chain's All-Star Cafe in New York last summer, can out-do those menu planners from the head office.

Yaki soba, a stir-fry of bell peppers, cabbage, ginger, onion and rice noodles in a teriyaki sauce served with lemon grass chicken was only fair -- a little too much soy sauce and time in the wok. Ditto for the L.A. lasagna -- lasagna ingredients stuffed in pasta tubes and fried like a cannoli. It tasted OK but didn't seem worth the extra calories and fat.

Desserts? Let us entertain you, baby. Nothing a calorie-counting starlet would touch, but mighty good eating. Tops is the warm fudge brownie served with dollops of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, shaved chocolate, chocolate and caramel sauces and a good spritz of whipped cream.

Runner-up is the white chocolate bread pudding that, if it had any more bourbon poured on top, would probably leave patrons under the table. Hmmm, sounds like a classic film comedy. W. C. Fields, your agent is calling.

Planet Hollywood

Pratt Street Pavilion, Harborplace 410-685-7827

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Credit cards: All major cards

Prices: Appetizers, $3.75-$6.95; entrees, $7.50-$17.95

Food: **1/2

Service: **

Atmosphere: ***

Ratings system: Outstanding: ****; Good ***; Fair or uneven **; Poor *

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