Artful Gourmet Bistro

American
$$$$ ($14 and under)
Artful Gourmet Bistro photo
Doug Kapustin/For The Post
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Editorial Review

The menu of this strip-mall gem in Owings Mills might lead an art history major to ponder the significance of naming a shrimp salad wrap after Georgia O'Keeffe, or to wonder why a simple tomato and mozzarella caprese is dubbed Rococo.

Though the naming of plates might seem random (case in point: would the Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky even know from a quesadilla?), there's plenty of artistry at work.

The menu is more museum than gallery: Carryout selections run to five pages, beginning with appetizers such as the Donatello Dipper, a baked artichoke dip with baguette ($8), and the NeoClassic Seafood Saute of clams, calamari and shrimp in a tomato broth, served with focaccia ($9). Murillo wraps ($12), meant for sharing, are simple and healthful: Romaine lettuce leaves come with slivered carrots and cucumber, rice noodles and sprouts for do-it-yourself roll-ups complete with peanut and orange dipping sauces.

Sandwiches and wraps are enticing compositions of meat, cheese and vegetables: blackened chicken with fried onions and blue cheese on focaccia (the Goya, $9.50); pink, pan-seared tuna with cucumbers, wasabi mayonnaise and the sweet crunch of pickled ginger (the Angelico, $12); grilled steak with sauteed mushrooms and chipotle mayonnaise on a baguette (the Homer, $11). There are also vegetarian options, such as a grilled panini with eggplant, roasted red peppers, portobello mushrooms and goat cheese (the Velazquez, $8.75). All are accompanied by a small side salad or pasta salad.

The salad list is likewise well curated, from the Surreal Caesar (sorry, it's fairly routine, although it is topped with crunchy homemade crostini, $7) to the Cassatt ($9), as pretty and sweet as that artist's work: baby spinach leaves, strawberries and crisp apple slices with a sprinkling of toasted pecans and goat cheese.

Lunchtime entrees are mostly pasta dishes ($14 and up), such as penne with chorizo sausage and chicken (the Starry Night); and whole-wheat linguine with blackened shrimp, peas and goat cheese in a creamy red sauce (the El Greco). There's also the Tahiri, a Moroccan-style chicken with eggplant and raisins, simmered in tomatoes and served over saffron rice ($14); and the Maryland Masterpiece, a crab cake with mashed potatoes ($19; $32 for two cakes).

During the day, all orders are taken at the counter, but customers who are waiting can stake out a table in the cafeteria-style dining area. After 4 p.m., the place transforms, with white-clothed tables attended by a wait staff. Takeout service remains available, with dinners-to-go dialed up a notch: Pork chops, broiled salmon and filet mignon, with sides such as goat cheese mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables, are all set for display on a plate at home ($18 to $31).

-- Martha Thomas (Good to Go, March 10, 2010)