Sly Horse gives rein to a spirited selection of imaginative dishes

November 29, 1991|By Lynn Williams | Lynn Williams,Sun Restaurant Critic

Sly Horse Tavern

Where: 2 Village Green, Crofton.

LTC Hours: Open for lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m.

to 9:30 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays,

11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays

and Saturdays.

Credit Cards: MC, V.

Features: New American cuisine.

Non-smoking section? Non-smoking room

! open on weekends.

Call: (410) 721-4550

...*** 1/2 The Crofton Village Green is faux Williamsburg: Colonial-style buildings set around a square, with a clapboard-fronted, dormer-windowed tavern to one side. And as Williamsburg itself is a 20th century re-creation of an 18th century town, the Crofton version might be considered a pastiche of a pastiche.

Never mind. The tavern, the Sly Horse, is charming, and its food is exceptional. While a real Williamsburg tavern wouldn't have a television at the bar, it would have a lot of the other Sly Horse accouterments: low ceilings, high-backed booths, fox-hunt art, plank flooring, candles in hurricane chimneys and a fire in the hearth. (The TV, by the way, is not easily seen from the dining areas, so "Jeopardy" and basketball don't intrude on the period flavor. The sound was also kept turned down, so we diners could hear the music -- which, oddly but pleasingly, dated mostly from the 1930s.)

Don't expect Colonial cooking. Instead of peanut soup and Sally Lunn buns, the Sly Horse offers a varied menu of imaginative, contemporary regional American cuisine.

For instance, there's shiitake mushroom and asparagus soup, which is altogether too stylish for its modest price of $2.75. It tasted like a buttery-rich cream of asparagus -- a treat at this time of year! -- with the wild mushrooms providing an extra fillip of sophistication.

My companion began with the sauteed mozzarella "Occidental" ($4.95), a version of the croque monsieur, a French grilled cheese and (prosciutto) ham sandwich. The Occidental, named after the venerable Washington restaurant, was good, but something was lacking; the kitchen had run out of sun-dried tomatoes for the sauce, and sent it to our table au naturel.

Blackened mahi-mahi garnished with avocado salsa ($14.50) was inspired mingling of cultures. The Cajun-prepared Hawaiian fish was dry but flavorful, and the sauce -- with roasted garlic and a symphony of Southwestern spices -- was memorable. And hot!

A special combination for $17.95 was more conventional but supernally luxurious: a petite filet mignon with silky bearnaise, and broiled quail topped with a pale, sweet Madeira cream sauce, delicately flavored with shiitakes.

Dinner came with a crock of cheese with a hint of crab spice, fine French rolls and one of the best salads around, mixed at table side and enlivened with Parmesan and herbs.

Don't neglect dessert; the Key lime pie had the proper tangy sweetness, but the truly irresistible item was a dense candy-like chocolate cake.

Reservations are a must. Even with reservations, there was a 20 minute wait for a table -- on a Tuesday! At time like these, "Jeopardy" comes in handy.

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