L'Osteria: superlative food in a beautiful setting

January 04, 1991|By Lynn Williams | Lynn Williams,Sun Restaurant Critic

You might find yourself humming "Tara's Theme" as you approach the front door of the imposing white antebellum manor house with the stately columns. But the place is Cumberland, not Georgia, and the name on the welcome mat is not O'Hara but Gigliotti.

Turkey Flight Manor, which dates from the mid-19th century, is now part of the Gigliotti family's motel-and-restaurant complex. Which might be an example of "sic transit gloria mundi" were not the restaurant, L'Osteria, so superlative.

It's also beautiful. By the time you read this, the Christmas decorations might already be on their way down, which is a shame; this "country inn" deserves to be seen at holiday time. Despite the neoclassical look of the architecture, the dining parlors are the height of formal Victoriana, and a Christmas tree and lots of lush, baubled and ribboned greenery were perfectly in keeping with the elegant fireplace mantels and raspberry-colored walls.

Had the food been less than impressive, we might never have noticed. And the rolls did seem to suggest that we would spend more time sighing over the decor than over the food -- they were banal supermarket fare.

Everything else was pretty terrific, though. The calamari fritti ($8), which we shared as an appetizer, were crisp and delightful (although some kind of dipping sauce would have been appreciated), and a shared order of vol dostana ($6.25), a tubular pasta with prosciutto and spinach in a cream sauce with garlic, Parmesan and brandy, had a smell and taste that were equally irresistible. (The distracting qualities of the aroma became a running joke with our waiter.)

The filet au poivre ($15.95) was one of the most expensive dishes on the menu -- you can get a fine meal here for a surprisingly low tab -- but was one of the best such dishes I have tasted. The beef, as tender as a good Brie, was rolled in pungent peppercorns and napped with a sauce in which cream mingled with meat juices and a bit of brandy. Blackened swordfish was also a winner. The fish wasn't "fishy" -- that sounds so negative -- but it did have the taste of the sea, and enough character to stand up to the lively spice treatment.

There's a pastry chef in the kitchen, and on evidence of her chocolate mousse cake and a fudgy chocolate cake with Grand Marnier mousse topping, she deserves a raise.

And there's one more temptation: a resident ghost, a Civil War officer who once owned the manor and died under mysterious circumstances. This is one house I'd be tempted to haunt, too.

L'Osteria Where: Colonial Manor Motel, just east of Cumberland on Route 40.

Hours: Dinner 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Credit Cards: AE, MC, V.

Features: Italian and Continental cuisine.

Non-smoking section: yes.

Call: (301) 777-3553.

*** 1/2

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