Friday, February 09, 2007

Winter Restaurant Week: True

True's Restaurant Week menu looked particularly delicious to both Neal and I, so we were eager to make it our second RW meal this week. Unlike many fine Baltimore area restaurants, True doesn't use Open Table to take reservations online. And, they're only open from Wednesday through Saturday, from 5 - 10, dinner only. A leetle inconvenient. But I called them on Wednesday afternoon to make a reservation via the phone. It rang and rang until a machine picked up, the message suggesting that I leave my name, number, and day and time I wish to dine there. I did just that, leaving both home and work numbers, and awaited their call. I got none, so assumed that all was well.

Thursday night, we arrived at 5 P.M. on the dot for our reservation. The place was deserted, barely open, and they couldn't find a reservation under my name.

"Did you get a confirmation call?"
"Well, we've been getting over one hundred calls per day about Restaurant Week and we are booked tonight. But...we can squeeze you in now, or at 8:30."
"Ok, how about now?"
"Well, our server isn't in yet. Can you go wait at the bar until about 5:15?"

So we went to the bar. I ordered a glass of merlot and Neal had a SoCo rocks. The place smelled of bleach-cleaned bathroom, not pretty. I was hungry and the wine was strong. After 20 minutes or so, the host (who reminded me of Isaac Mizrahi a bit--scattered and a bit fey) came to take us to our table. Now, to get to the dining room, one needs to pass this narrow counter in front of the coat closet, a tiny room with an ill-hung, too-large curtain over it. Then comes a larger square room, containing a round table, some coffee urns, various bric-a-brac, some chairs, and a couple of random pieces of furniture. It looked like a storage room, or an attic, and not something that customers should have to pass through to get to the restaurant. True is in a hotel, so perhaps that area is for guests' continental breakfast, I don't know. But it was in a bit of a shambles, and gave the impression that the restaurant was disorganized. And judging by the reservations policy, it is. How was I supposed to know that if I didn't hear from the restaurant, my reservation wasn't on the books? They should call each and every person back, either to confirm a table or to apologize for being completely booked. My needing to be a mind-reader was a real strike against the place.

Once seated, we were greeted by our waitress, who had arrived when we were at the bar. Nice, when the restaurant opens at 5, to have the waitstaff arrive at 10 minutes after. Our menus were already on the table - they were just serving the Restaurant Week selections and nothing else. That was fine, as we already knew what we wanted. Neal opted for the "Lobster Bisque with a Tarragon Cheve Crouton and Sherry Roasted Lobster" and the "Venison Medallions Pan Seared over a Potato Gallette Finished with Blackberry Demi Glace and Creamy Great Hill Blue Cheese." I had the "Grilled Diver Scallops with a Mango Gastrique over a Potato Nest finished with Chive Vinaigrette" and the "True Duo Petit Filet Mignon with Cabernet Proscuitto Demi Glace and a Maryland Crab Cake with Saffron Aioli." We also ordered a Pinot Noir whose name I forget.

The wine came, but no bread. I started my second glass of wine and soon grew tipsy. Our appetizers came after a bit of a wait. Neal's bisque was a shallow bowl of pale orange, cream-thickened, lobstery goodness crowned with a crouton and chunk of lobster meat. It had real lobster flavor and was first class. My scallops were fine - three half-dollar-sized morsels topped by baby greens. The "potato nest" was a small scattering of fried potato sticks pushed over at the side of the dish, not nest-like in any way. There were also tiny circles of an orange liquid on the four corners of the plate - possibly the mango gastrique, although it didn't have any discernable flavor. The greens were dry, so I'm thinking they forgot the chive vinaigrette. The scallops were perfectly cooked, however, a little crusty on the outside and tender within, and the potato sticks were nicely crunchy and tasty.

Two other parties had come into the restaurant by the time we got our appetizers. They got bread baskets, so I requested one when the waitress removed our plates. It contained three square French rolls, buttery and delicious. I'm betting they came from either Atwater's or Bonaparte. I immediately buttered one up and wolfed it down to help absorb the alcohol.

After another wait, our entrees arrived. I realized that we had not been asked how we wanted our meat cooked when I overheard the waitress say "everything is medium-rare" to another table. I'd say more medium than medium-rare, but either is to our liking. Neal got a generous portion of pink-centered venison slices, with a dollop of mashed potatoes rather than the advertised gallette, and broccoli. The meat was extremely lean, very tender, and flavorful. The blue cheese and berry sauce were perfect accompaniments. My True duo included a 4 oz (or so) filet mignon topped with bits of prosciutto and an equally-sized crabcake drizzed with the saffron aioli. The same mashed potatoes and broccoli decorated my plate. The beef was tender and as flavorful as a bland cut like filet can get. The crabcake was not lump crab, possibly not even blue crab, but it was broiled nicely and had good flavor and little breading. The potatoes were nothing special, and the broccoli was undercooked.

When the waitress came to clear our plates, she recited the evening's dessert menu. Neal opted for a very light cheesecake, and I had what she called a chocolate souffle cake, but was really a molten chocolate cake. Both were quite tasty, and a nice ending to the meal.

While our waitress was fine (except for the bread omission), the front-of-the house was abysmal, and the dining room was slightly depressing. True is in the basement of the Admiral Fell Inn, an historical building dating from the 1770's. The walls are of exposed old stone and there are small transom windows on the front wall. There was an odd centerpiece in the room - a round table, topped with two wooden crates draped with a lacy crochet schmatta, two ridiculously huge peppermills, and some silk roses in a tiny vase. The overall effect was "ugly and cheap." Fortunately, the food was very good, and definitely worth the $30.07 per person.

I'm glad they could "squeeze" us in - when we left at 7:30, there were three whole tables occupied, and two parties waiting to be seated.

True on Urbanspoon

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