E is for Expensive
Charleston · The Black Olive · Milton Inn · Polo Grill · Chart House · Oregon Grille
Chef Cindy Wolf left Savannah and its underground Fells Point digs for fancier waterfront real estate at Inner Harbor East, and she arrived with her prodigious skills very much intact. Charleston (1000 Lancaster St.,  332-7373) is bright and airy (particularly in the all-windows bar overlooking the water), and its very rich food follows Savannah's Southern leanings. The menu's rife with seafood and dense, buttery sauces, and the bread basket brims with corn bread and biscuits. But fear not--the richness doesn't drown out flavor here. The excellent cooking and a long wine list that even includes a few affordable labels make Charleston's steep prices worth paying every now and again.
The Black Olive (814 S. Bond St.,  276-7141) puts the "nouveau" in nouveau Greek cuisine. You think you know fish? You don't know nuthin'. Let your server escort you to the ever- changing display and introduce you to exotic breeds from faraway lands. Before long you'll be savoring the sweet taste of your chosen fish, filleted tableside for your pleasure. Sushi-quality tuna, luscious lamb, gargantuan kabobs--just point. The simplest Greek dishes get a new spin here, in a charmingly renovated rowhouse a smidgen off the beaten path in Fells Point. Make sure your credit card is paid up. Nouveau Greek doesn't come cheap.
Yeah, the Milton Inn (14833 York Road, Sparks,  771-4366) is as hoity as it is toity, but you have to give new (as of last year) partner and chef Brian Boston credit for trying to make top-notch American regional cuisine accessible to the great unwashed. The Milton's $30 "tasting menu" offers choices of six appetizers, three salads (including a Caesar), seven entrées (including rack of lamb and herb-and-pepper encrusted salmon), and your pick of three desserts. Whatever you choose, remember you're paying for the atmosphere--the romantic, dark-wood-and-fireplace interior, or the candlelit quietude of the patio under the stars--so you'd better enjoy it.
The Polo Grill (4 W. University Parkway,  235-8200), on the first floor of the Colonnade in Homewood, has an old-boy ambience that makes you want to close that deal over your smoked salmon, mascarpone cheese, red onion, and field greens sandwich (whether you've actually come to discuss a deal or not). Lunch at the Polo is, if not cheapskate-friendly, at least not astronomical (lots of hearty sandwiches under $10, salads under $7), and in our experience the service is friendly and attentive to all patrons, including those who show up not particularly dressed for success. The dinner menu, which leans heavily on pasta and chicken, ranges from the low 20s to the low 30s in price.
If you're looking for a sedate place to take grandparents, old friends from out of town, or anyone else who a) is buying or b) is someone you want to impress with your successful, big-spender ways, the Chart House (601 E. Pratt St.,  539-6616) is a safe bet, especially with meat-eaters and fish lovers in your crowd. The menu is replete with carnivorous options, and if you measure quality by cost, then you're in for some of the best.
When we talk about an old-fashioned dining experience, we usually mean traditional fare and solicitous service. Oregon Grille (1201 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley,  771-0505) comes through on both counts, and also has the anachronistic practice of not acknowledging women when it comes to mentioning specials or presenting the bill. If you can get past that, there's plenty to like at this equestrian-themed restaurant. Start with the wonderful oysters as an appetizer, feast on rack of lamb as a main course, then finish off the meal with the densely flavored chocolate terrine. And ladies, just look at it this way: If the waiter won't make eye contact, at least you don't have to worry about small talk.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201