At Café Boulevard, Quality is Impeccable
by Chris Kulczycki
Making reservations at Café Boulevard, we were asked if the chef might prepare anything special for us. The dinner menu changes daily, taking advantage of the freshest seasonal ingredients and the chefs and, apparently, the customers whims. Most ingredients are organic; bread and desserts are baked on premises while the espresso beans are roasted in Sicily. The owners circulate among the tables chatting with diners. Now all this shouldnt be a surprise at a world-class restaurant. But this is a modest neighborhood café with only a handful of bistro-style entrées on the dinner menu.
Our server was apologetic: It took 15 minutes for a spinach and cheese soufflé to arrive. But it came straight from the oven, quivering at the center, crisp at the edges, and loaded with fresh spinach and Swiss cheese, and was worth the wait. Large, perfectly tender lamb cubes in a complex brown sauce punctuate the Navarin of Lamb, a classic French stew. And if your idea of chowder is that fishy wallboard paste in a can, then try Café Boulevards, where a school of perfectly cooked fish, shrimp, and calamari float contentedly in a thin white broth flavored with cream and sherry.
These themes recur: The food and presentation are simple, flavors subtle, herbs and spices restrained, quality impeccable. This is not to say there arent flaws. Chicken a la Napoleon, a breaded and sautéed organic chicken breast topped by ham, cheese, and simple red sauce, is, well, okay, technically perfect, but its boring. Sometimes the chefs are too restrained. On the other hand, the Beef Empanadas resonate with green olive and raisin-spiced beef in a thin and crusty shell.
All entries are served with house salad and bread, and some are with soup. The salad is a simple affair, lovely mixed greens, a few grape tomatoes, and your choice of superb house-made dressings. The blue cheese dressing is decadently thick, almost too rich, the thousand islands is tangy and fresh, and the ranch is creamy and smooth. The soups also set a high standard, with a cream of tomato thats mild, yet slightly tart. Despite a light stock, plenty of caramelized onions and melted Swiss cheese make for a fine French onion soup. The bread is fresh and chewy, though by dinner the crust has lost its crunch.
Café Boulevard also serves a cafeteria-style lunch with sandwiches, soups, salads, and quiche. The Ca Dolce roasted eggplant on chewy foccacia adorned with tomato, fresh mozzarella and a pesto mayonnaise is exceptional. The Waldorf salad of only fresh grapes, green apples, and celery in an airy dressing with a hint of red pepper, rather than the usual heavy mayonnaise, also stands out.
A café is a place one can, and should, pop in for just coffee and dessert. The chocolate cake, made from a recipe one of the owners developed for a cooking class, is among the best Ive tasted, dense, moist, with a hint of cinnamon. The lemon cheesecake is deliciously creamy. The strawberry torte, however, was just acceptable. And the espresso, ah the espresso; is simply unequaled in Bay Country.
The major flaw at Café Boulevard is the lack of a wine list. Our server explained that the restaurant backs to an elementary school, so it hasnt been granted a liquor license. I suppose we cant ignore the danger of fourth graders sipping Cote du Rhone when they should be at recess. Nonetheless there is a choice of fruit smoothies, sodas, juices, and those phenomenal coffee drinks. Even the sparkling water is well-considered, mild Italian San Benedetto rather than more common Perrier, which is too gaseous to accompany a meal.
The dining room is brightly lit, simply decorated and wholly pleasant. A sofa grouping clusters around the window. Service is amateurish, but not annoyingly so, and a splendid meal for two will run about $40. One might ask more of a restaurant, but for a café, this approaches perfection.
548 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd., Severna Park 410/544-2660
Proprietors: Christian Glucksmann, Santiago Novorra-Monzo, Miryana Novorra-Monzo
Reason to go: The kitchen displays skill and passion for quality rare in this price range.
Something to think about: Bistro food without wine? Sacre bleu!