Only the Best isn't quite. Mostly the best, yes. But the best?
A restaurant with a name that sets so lofty a standard almost invites nit-picking. And while my husband and I did have some small complaints, we found this charming Ellicott City newcomer to be a restaurant that tries hard -- and succeeds more often than not.
Only the Best opened a little more than a year ago in a building put up after a 1985 fire. The restaurant's front windows, covered with lace curtains, look out on Main Street as it rises charmingly from the Patapsco River.
This is, with one small exception, a warmly decorated restaurant that made us glad we had come in from a cold February night. Watercolors and sconces are set against an attractive print wallpaper. Ceiling fans move gently overhead. Fresh flowers and pretty china brighten the tables.
And in this pleasant setting, quality and care in preparation were obvious in nearly everything we ate.
We began with mushrooms stuffed with crab imperial ($7.95) and a cup of Maryland Crab Soup ($2.50).
The mushrooms were light and delicate, filled with virtually pure crab meat and topped, not coated with, an imperial sauce. As with other dishes, seasoning was on the light side. Light, but not bland.
The soup, too, was lightly seasoned. At first sight, it seemed dominated by tomato chunks. At first taste, however, it proved to be a careful balance of tomatoes, crab meat and seasoning. My husband wished it had come by the bowl.
I chose Wahoo with Beaujolais Sauce ($15.95) as my main course; my husband, salmon and crab with dill cooked in parchment ($17.95).
Wahoo? It's not a restaurant regular, though perhaps it ought to be. Wahoo is a fairly thick, firm white fish with a mild taste. I was served two medallions of it drizzled with the slightly thickened wine sauce that was not sweet -- a real plus.
My husband's salmon and crab with dill proved to be just that. No sauce; no other discernible seasonings. But the chef's deft touch eliminated the need for anything else. It succeeded because of its simplicity.
Two vegetables came with each entree. I had a large HTC twice-baked potato that was deliciously creamy under its crunchy top, and tender-crisp green beans with bits of fresh tomato. Both were excellent.
My husband had rice Florentine and broccoli. The broccoli was good but the rice tasted as if it came from a familiar boxed mix, he thought.
For dessert, I had a piece of homemade chocolate chip cheesecake ($2.75). Unusually creamy and fresh, it was some of the best cheesecake I have had in a long time.
My husband had a chocolate mousse ($2.50) that, while good, didn't have the complex flavor he prefers. More delicate flavoring could have improved this dish.
Diners are given a basket of small dinner rolls that, the menu said, had been "baked on the premises." That has become a synonym, it seems, for breads prepared elsewhere, sometimes delivered frozen, and baked just before serving. They taste good, but lack that wonderful yeasty taste of homemade rolls. And they weren't, to be truthful, "the best."
We were a little put off initially by our waitress, who did not seem well versed either in the lengthy wine list or in how some of the evening's dishes were prepared. But we were impressed that she repeatedly walked to the kitchen to answer our questions. She even tasted the Beaujolais sauce to assure me it was not sweet.
Only the Best does not have a full bar. It does have a huge wine list, from which we had an excellent Alsatian wine. Our tab, with the wine and two coffees, was just over $74.
My husband had one other, minor criticism. For all of its nice touches, the first-floor dining room where we ate has a tile floor. Plain tile, as you might expect to find in a school lunchroom.
Our host explained, when asked, that it had been inherited from the last restaurant that occupied the building and would be replaced when the budget allowed.
Judging by the number of things Only the Best does right, that shouldn't take long.
*** Only The Best
8167 Main St.
Hours: Lunch served 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; dinner served 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Saturday hours are 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday hours are 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Monday.
Reservations: Recommended for six or more for lunch and for weekends.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Limited access.
Smoking: Separate areas.