Monday, June 04, 2007

Chameleon Cafe

This weekend my in-laws were in town and took us to dinner (to celebrate Matt's and his mom's birthdays) at the extremely nearby Chameleon Cafe (4341 Harford Rd Baltimore, MD 21214, 410.254.2376). We've been wanting to go there for ages after reading so many good things about it, but there are only open for dinner and it is too expensive for just a casual night out and their Winter menu was very heavy. The Spring menu is suitably lighter. The dining area is surprisingly large and decorated with children's artwork (I am assuming for a special display) and the dining room layout really makes the most of the space without making you feel crowded.

For starters we had grilled lettuces ($7.95, grilled romaine, endive, and red leaf with garlic cream dressing, walnuts, and Parmesan cheese) and the charcuterie ($10.95 an assortment of house made sausage and pâté) both of which were good. We split them amongst the four of us and there was plenty for each of us to get a taste. The charcuterie was very good, the sausage was flavorful and the chicken liver pâté was tasty. We actually got to try the calamari ($8.95, cornmeal crusted fried calamari, and red pepper relish) as well, apparently they dropped part of our charcuterie and had to remake it, so they brought out from calamari to eat while we waited. It was quite good.

Then for the main course, Matt and his dad got the lamb (26.95 grilled lamb loin, pistachio butter, fennel artichoke confit, English pea risotto, and duxelle sauce), Matt's mom got the hanger steak ($21.95 grilled hanger steak served medium rare with baby potatoes, cippolini onions, lardons, béarnaise sauce, and sauce piquante) and I got the scallops ($23.95 pan-seared dry packed scallops, baby carrots, ramps, and colcannon). Matt and his dad loved and raved over the lamb. The hanger steak looked and tasted amazing, as did the potatoes and onions it came with.

And me? I was underwhelmed. I ordered the scallops because we rarely buy scallops and it seemed a little lighter than some of the other choices. I was tempted to order the hanger steak (an now sorely wish I had) but was worried the béarnaise sauce might be too much-my stomach occasionally gets upset after eating to much of a heavy, creamy sauce. However, the scallops arrived sitting in a pool of a creamy sauce that was completely unmentioned on the menu and the steak had only the tinest bit, so I should have just went for the steak. The scallops were tasty and large, but overall the meal was skimpy in a way that the other entrees were not. I had only four scallops, the "baby carrots", while tasty were 2 pencil thin bits, there were a couple of spears of asparagus and the "colcannon" was not colcannon at all, but whipped potatoes with onions and (I assume) the ramps that were mentioned in the description. I had sort of assumed at it would actually be colcannon (which is generally potatoes with kale or cabbage) or a creative twist on colcannon. Instead they were basically the same mashed potatoes with onions or leeks that I'd make for an every day meal, possible spiked with a bit of shrimp or seafood broth.

It was a bit disappointing, especially when compared with everyone else's fabulous meals. It was disheartening to go to a place you have been thinking about for a year only to go home hungry after spending $24 on four scallops, four thin stalks of vegetables and a mound of mashed potatoes. Thank god there was some leftover steak to nibble on or I would have had to come home and make myself a second meal.

The dessert menu was limited: a strawberry and rhubarb crumble (tempting, but such a easy, homey dish it seemed a waste to order at a restaurant) and the ubiquitous creme brulee and flourless chocolate cake. I didn't get any thing, but the bite I had of the chocolate cake was good, nothing exciting, but very chocolately and dense.

All in all, I'd go back, but will avoid the scallops.

Chameleon Cafe in Baltimore