A Hot Lead on a Great Meal in Brooklyn Park
Sometimes, in the life of the restaurant critic, you get a bum steer. And sometimes you get lucky, and a hot tip turns out to be really hot. This week, we have loyal reader Wendy to thank for turning us on, via e-mail to City Paper Online, to a terrific arrival to the dining scene, a new continental restaurant in northern Anne Arundel County. From its location (on busy Ritchie Highway) to its exterior (drab), and even to its interior (dark and unadorned, but it's only been open a couple of months, so maybe some additional décor is planned), you'd never guess the grub at Jupa Restaurant (5721 Ritchie Highway, Brooklyn Park,  636-1105) would be so great. Even C.C.'s mom, the Dowager Empress, was impressed, and she's one royal who doesn't impress easily.
We were all impressed from the start with the prices. And a little bit wary. Pasta entrées average nine bucks. The same gets you pan-seared filet of tilapia with sautéed bananas in a white wine lemon-butter sauce, $11 a cornmeal-crusted trout filet with white wine and caper butter sauce. It sounded too good to be true.
We started off by sharing an appetizer of hot crab dip ($4.50), which came with ample slices of warmed pita aside a bowl of rich crab and cream-cheese flavors under a melted cheese topping. When the pita was gone, we smeared the stuff on the warm bread in our breadbasket. But for lack of gastric capacity, I'd have ordered another intriguing starter, gratin of mussels with pesto ($5).
We realized we were in good hands servicewise when C.C. asked for guidance in choosing between the tilapia and the trout. Our server pondered in silence. "Well," she said at last, "it's hard to pinpoint exactly." She then proceeded to do so. "The tilapia is prepared with the banana, which gives the soft, mild fish a somewhat nutty flavor, while the rainbow trout, more of a buttery taste with a hint of lemon, has the cornmeal coating which adds crunch. It just depends on which you like."
C.C. went for crunch. Her filet was large, moist, and crispy indeed under its light coating. The judicious use of capers highlighted the butter sauce. The fish was lemony and light, perfectly complemented by sides of rice pilaf enlivened with bits of sautéed red pepper and purple onion and a medley of seared squash (green and yellow), red and green peppers, and red onion.
Mom opted for the crab cakes ($16, the most expensive item listed). Instead of what the menu described as an 8-ounce cake, her plate arrived with a pair of beauties we estimated at 5 to 6 ounces each. Pan-fried, they had the old-timey sweetness of red pepper, bits of which flecked the crab meat. Mom delivered her one-line superlative--"Super!"--early on, then dashed our greedy hopes by announcing she would take home any leftovers to tide her over for the coming weekend.
Meanwhile, I attacked a grilled, pepper- and herb-crusted rack of lamb ($15), sliced into five lovely chops arranged on a pool of concentrated balsamic glaze. Oh my--an il faut for lamb fanciers. The chops were pink and tender, trimmed of almost all fat, and redolent of rosemary. My skin-on garlic mashed potatoes were subtly seasoned--so subtly I couldn't detect much garlic--but the balsamic glaze, which accentuated the heartiness of the chops, enlivened everything it touched. They should bottle the stuff.
Jupa offers just three desserts, but all are homemade. We passed on the New York-style cheesecake ($4). Mom tried a delicate vanilla-bean crème brúlée ($4), feigning protest all the way. "I can't finish this. I'm too full. I can't eat another bite," she lamented, spooning up the silky custard until it disappeared. The tiramisu ($4.95) melted dreamily on the tongue, leaving the distinctive tastes of chocolate and coffee.
Dinner concluded, we sat back and passed a smile around the table. OK, Jupa could do with a little sprucing up, a lighter shade of paint, a picture here, a mirror there. But I didn't mind. None of us did. We wanted to come back, the sooner the better.
Open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 5-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.