This location is closed
The folks behind the former Tampico Mexican Grill have unveiled in the same lofty Mount Vernon space something they’re calling a gourmet bistro, which they’ve given the drag-queen name of Limoges (1200 N. Charles St.,  837-9999). I guess it’s supposed to sound classy, like the famous porcelain from the namesake French city, but it comes across as manufactured and provincial. (“Limoges” is really fun to say with a Baltimore accent.)
Frenchified with yellow tablecloths, gigantic flower arrangements, and fresh country curtains, the space feels and looks softer than it did in its Tampico days. It frankly screams, “Pre-symphony crowd, eat here!” And while I’m all for reinvention, this overnight shift from Mexican to French feels, if not exactly cynical, just not motivated by a burning passion for this cuisine. Accomplished, pleasant, and very occasionally exquisite, it’s still hardly feverish or exciting.
I’d be dining at Limoges every night if everything sang with the zest of its brandade ($7.95), a crazily delicious preparation of salt cod, whipped together with potatoes and garlic and piled onto a canoe-shaped crostini. Every bite of the fluffy, salty cod and the sweet leeks charmed and amazed me.
Close to this achievement was the tournedos Mathieu ($21.95), seared medallions of tenderloin simmering in a sauce of green peppercorns and cognac, accompanied by puréed potatoes and a spinach royale, an intensely flavored, aspiclike concentration of spinach flavor. This dish displayed an impressive consideration of strong contrasting flavors and textures.
Then, into a broad secondary category I’d place just about everything else at Limoges—food that I liked but didn’t care about, or just didn’t want to spend money on. I’d easily recommend the canard aux lentilles ($17.95); I thoroughly enjoyed eating the slices of pan-roasted duck with green lentils, beets, and sweet-and-sour duck jus. I just wish I could put my finger on why I didn’t fall in love with it. Could it have pulled up short of full-on fatty flavor? I’d heard high praise from friends for Limoges’ entrecôte au poivre ($22.95), a black-pepper-encrusted New York strip served with pommes frites, but I didn’t flip for it, partially because the bordelaise sauce was too heavy, partly because the fries were too thick to be flavorful.
The mussels ($7.95) here are steamed in a just-too-tart saffron-white wine-chorizo broth. I didn’t quite get how the sliced chorizo was working with the mussels, themselves nice specimens but not the beauties I encountered a few weeks back at Timothy Dean Bistro. The play of two vegetables that are seldom considered together almost came across in the soup of the day ($6.95), an artichoke purée topped with a slender asparagus bouquet. In case you wondered, asparagus dominates artichoke. This pleased the eyes but gave off a mildly tinny back-taste.
The only thing I just plain didn’t take to was the coquilles St. Jacques ($19.95), Limoges’ take on the classic scallops preparation but with an overdose infusion of green-peppercorn broth that overwhelmed the natural sweetness of the scallops. Special mention, though, goes to the crispy-to-the-last accompanying snow peas.
I’ve reported on—and recommended—lots of places that entertained me in spite of occasional or sometimes even frequent flaws in preparation, concept, or design. But here’s something different—a restaurant that performs ably but just doesn’t end up compelling much admiration.