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Running Late

Arrive To This Brunch Early To Get the Most Bang For the Considerable Bucks


Christopher Myers

Pisces

This location is closed

By Richard Gorelick | Posted 3/22/2006

Pisces, the seafood restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore, puts on a massive all-you-can-eat buffet brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday. Some people dream about things like this—you know, folks on diets and impoverished students. The most remarkable thing about Pisces’ brunch is its price—$39 per person, with an 18% gratuity added in automatically, which makes the most urgent question about it not so much “is it any good?” but “is it worth it?”

It depends, maybe, on how much the hefty price point leads you to expect what Simon Cowell calls the “wow factor.” And for all of the bounty, and its overall high quality, there’s something pervasively ordinary about the brunch experience at Pisces. Some of this has to do with the awkward physical setup and some of it the service, which is disengaged. But mostly it’s something less tangible, experienced as something absent.

Pisces’ brunch takes place in the hotel’s rooftop dining room, the dated high-tech design of which undoubtedly looks better at night. By day, it looks stale and gray, and the exposed-ceiling framework looks unfinished and, well, exposed. The view of the harbor through the room-length windows, though, is thrilling, and the room is smartly designed to get as many tables as possible alongside them. Presumably, most diners insist on window-side tables, which might explain the strange holding pattern incoming diners are placed in. Although some tables appear to be open—perhaps not the best ones—diners are deposited in a lounge area, without offers of coffee or explanations.

Pisces is weirdly reticent about many things. The brunch’s cost appears nowhere, nor does a warning about the automatic gratuity. Buffet items are unlabeled, although a very nice chef hovers about to answer questions. Nothing informs you that bacon and sausage can be requested from the kitchen (along with a price-included entrée), and the clumsy layout makes it possible to miss entirely, as I did on a first visit, an entire section of the brunch display. Some displays are packed into the lounge area, another on a level above the main dining room. These displays are tended to but not fanatically, and especially if you arrive toward the brunch’s end, some of it looks picked-over. Even the piano player leaves at 2, when the dining room is still half-full. Diminishing buffet returns are understandable, but maybe not so much at $39 a pop.

If, though, you’re more a Paula Abdul, you might relax your standards and enjoy the good things that Pisces does have to offer. For one thing, there’s unlimited refills of coffee, fresh orange juice, champagne, and mimosas. (Bloody Marys, too, but nothing says so.) The principal cold display comprises not only pastries, fruit, cheese, green salads, and an impressive variety of smoked fishes and seafood—peppered mackerel, trout, whitefish, mussels, scallops—but winning little cold salads as well. The best of these was a chilled tossing of crabmeat, shrimp, and chopped asparagus, followed by cheese-filled tortellini and a fresh artichoke-and-feta salad.

The bagels suck, though. They’re the roll-like impostors you might find in a supermarket bin, and whether someone will toast one for you upon request is yet another one of Pisces’ mini-mysteries.

Raw oysters, naked-looking shrimp, and sushi items—few of them raw—are languidly displayed on what by night is the lounge’s bar, and not many diners looked interested in them. Shucking oysters to order would be nicer (again, $39), and so would soy sauce that’s less salty and wasabi that’s less chalky. And in the lounge’s corner are a massive display of good-looking cakes (we were too full for them), assorted pecan and lemon squares. Belgian waffles with fresh fruit toppings are offered here, too.

What really distinguishes Pisces’ brunch and makes it all almost seem worth it is the selection of kitchen-made plates diners can choose from—tempters like a seafood mixed grill, crab Benedict, seared rockfish with crabmeat, and an omelet of the day. When these dishes arrive they look like quality restaurant dishes. Served on lovely greens, tuna is blackened to a perfect temperature, with just a little too much Old Bay mixed in the spices. The fillet that came with a steak and eggs platter, though, was cooked (in two attempts) beyond rare and was unpleasantly sinewy.

I suspect that early arrivals for brunch at Pisces have a better time of it. But for latecomers, the sensation is like air being slowly let out of a balloon.

Brunch-drunk love

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