Tersiguel's is everything I want in a restaurant -- beautiful, but comfortable, surroundings; proper, but friendly, service; wonderful, consistently wonderful, food. And yet so subtle.
My husband and I were near the end of our recent Sunday dinner before we realized that, barring a slip, this was going to be our first four-star review.
There were no slips, no falters, not even a blip.
In more than two years of reviewing restaurants in and around Baltimore -- more than 100 of them -- Tersiguel's is the best we've found.
Despite its rich heritage -- owner Fernand Tersiguel ran the renowned Chez Fernand destroyed by the 1985 Ellicott City fire and later relocated to downtown Baltimore before heading back to Ellicott City -- we had heard little about this restaurant, which Tersiguel and his wife opened in late 1990.
The restaurant is in a large, old white house on the west edge of the historic district. Inside are five small dining rooms -- each with a theme -- on two floors linked by a massive, finely detailed oak staircase.
The French country decor is lovely. The Brittany Room, in front on the first floor, where we ate was dominated by a large, oak breakfront displaying hand-painted French plates. On the walls were photographs of village life in Brittany. On the tables were fresh flowers and, as service plates, more of the red- and blue-flowered china.
Tersiguel, as maitre d', greeted us. We were immediately put at ease by his informal, cheerful manner. He tends to the diners; his wife to the kitchen. It's a match made in heaven. Or, at least, a happy division of labor.
Moments after we were seated, our waitress appeared. At first, we thought she was a bit gruff. The slightest conversation, however, showed that we'd misjudged. She proved to be knowledgeable about the evening's food and wine offerings, as well as a pleasant person. We enjoyed talking with her.
Her inviting recitation of the night's specials left both of us in a wonderful predicament -- between the menu and the specials there were so many tempting dishes we could eliminate offerings only with great difficulty.
But, eliminate we did, settling on two appetizers from the specials list -- cream of asparagus soup ($3.95 a cup) and Coquilles Saint-Jacques ($8.25). The soup had an assertive asparagus flavor with a spicy edge I couldn't identify. I could have done with less assertiveness, a quality my husband found appealing.
The coquilles consisted of six scallops cooked on the half shell and topped with a cream of crab. And what scallops. Our waitress said they were farm-raised and unlike any others she had had. We agreed; they tasted more like mussels than scallops. Divine would not be an overstatement, both for the scallops and the sauce.
Skipping salads, we moved on to our entrees, again both specials. I chose a filet of rockfish en croute ($18.95). The crust in this case was thinly sliced potatoes arranged to replicate fish scales. Underneath were twin, stacked filets, tender with an almost sweet flavor.
My husband chose a pepper-coated filet mignon with shiitake mushrooms ($18.95) and a browned brandy sauce. This melt-in-your-mouth filet was the best either of us has ever had, and that includes our Midwestern favorites.
We also had, ala carte, a dish of ratatouille ($2.50) and a small plate of asparagus with hollandaise sauce ($3.25). The inviting ratatouille -- cubed pieces of fresh vegetables in a tangy tomato sauce -- played beautifully off both the beef and the rockfish. The asparagus -- peeled spears fanned across the plate and coated half-way up with a buttery hollandaise -- was a work of art.
There was another vegetable hit -- the cubed potatoes served with the filet. They could hold their own against anyone's memories of perfect french fries.
Nor should we short-change the superb french bread or the sweet-cream butter. Or the glasses of chardonnay and Bordeaux poured at tableside from a selection of 15 wines by the glass.
It was somewhere during the main course that we realized just how relaxed we were and how good everything was. So it was with some trepidation that we moved onto dessert.
Not to worry. The chocolate mousse ($4.25) was perfect, creamy and cool with a lingering taste of deep chocolate. The strawberry tart ($4.25) had a flaky thin crust layered with pastry cream and sweet strawberries under a light glaze. It was delicious and beautifully presented with dollops of whipped cream on the side.
The bill for all this fine food, including two cocktails, two glasses of wine and two coffees, was about $86 -- not cheap, to be sure, but not more than many mediocre meals. And our dinner at Tersiguel's, complete with a table by the window, was far from mediocre. It was outstanding.
**** Tersiguel's 8293 Main St., Ellicott City (410) 465-4004 Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day; dinner, 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends and for late lunch on Sunday.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Limited access.
Smoking: Separate areas designated.