By Cathy Adams

     Maison Marconi has been a fixture on Saratoga Street since 1920. In the 198's, a restaurant consultant advised proprietor Ilene Booke that unless she changed the menu to California nouvelle, it would not survive. But she decided that "we are what we are", resisted trendy changes, and is still in business.

     Marconi's is an old town house and the dining rooms are small and simply decorated. The gleaming crystal chandeliers, white marble fireplace and plaster work in the front dining room are in keeping with the old fashioned atmosphere.

     Sometimes described as stodgy, the traditional menu and ambience has an authentic and refreshing charm. Dishes that are disappearing from local restaurants, like sweetbreads, calves liver, hearts of iceberg, and jellied consume are staples on the menu. The preparations Bonne Feme, Meuniere, Veronique, and Sarah Bernhardt are pillars of traditional French cuisine.

     Marconi's has a remarkable institutional memory. Chef Tony Santori recently retired after 36 years; "new" chef Keith Watson has been in the kitchen for 18 years, and some of the wait staff have been there for for 15. "Many of our customers tell me they've been eating here since they were teenagers, when they were brought by their grandparents," said Brooke.

     Lobster Cardinale is one of Marconi's most popular entrees, and at $23 the priciest on the menu. Lobster meat is sauteed, folded into a rich seafood cream sauce scented with sherry, returned to the shell and broiled.

     The menu has a wide selection of seafood. Oysters, sole, rockfish, salmon, trout, and shrimp are available in different preparations. There are Italian dishes, such as spaghetti with chicken livers, Marinara sauce, or fresh mushrooms. Vegetables come ala carte, including such favorites as creamed spinach, fried eggplant, and Lyonnaise potatoes.

     Ice cream with chocolate sauce is one of the desserts Marconi's is famous for. A must for all chocolate lovers, the rich, warm chocolate sauce is simple but delicious.

     There are some historical quirks on the menu, such as charging for bread and butter (40 cents per person), and drinks served on the rocks (10 cents). The ice fee is a remnant from the days when blocks of ice were delivered daily and had to be chipped by hand. A kitchen employee still hand curls the butter from a 55 pound tub of butter and drops it into ice water until needed. "I'm not making money on the bread and butter," said Booke. Marconi's has modernized enough to have and ice machine, but still no fax, computers, or television.

     The wine list is moderately priced, with bottles from the most renowned regions of France and Italy.

     In the early 80's, when I was looking for a cook's job, I tried to apply to Marconi's. The chef said he was sorry, he did not have any positions open, but he wished he could hire me, because I was so cute. Politically correct he wasn't, but change comes slow to Marconi's and sometimes that is not bad.

     Marconi's declines to contribute a recipe for the column, because that is the way they have always done it, and are not about to change now. The following recipe is a traditional chocolate sauce.

     Chocolate Ganache - to serve 4



  1. Coarsely chop chocolate.
  2. Bring heavy cream to a boil in a small sauce pan.
  3. Add chopped chocolate to cream, remove from heat, and stir until chocolate is melted. Add optional flavoring. Serve immediately. If you need to rewarm, place or low heat until melted, but do not bring to a boil.

         Maison Marconi
    106 West Saratoga Street
    (410) 727-9522
    Appetizers: $7-12.50
    Entrees: $12-23.00
    Closed Sunday and Monday
    Open Lunch and Dinner

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