Food's Often Terrific Too Bad About Service

DINING OUT

April 03, 1994|By ELIZABETH LARGE

Fergie's, 2840 Solomons Island Road, Edgewater, (410) 841-5105. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesdays to Sundays. Major credit cards. No-smoking area: yes. Prices: appetizers, $5.25-$7; entrees, $12.50-$21.75. ***

No way this place should have food this good. First of all, it looks like a bowling alley -- a rectangular, squat, gray building with red neon signs saying "Fergie's Lounge" and "Fergie's Restaurant."

The four of us walked in, soon to be spending $150 on dinner. But nobody seemed to notice us. Finally, a waitress came up to us. Sorry, she said, I don't have a window seat in no-smoking. I pointed to one.

"What about that one?"

Sorry, she said. That's reserved.

"I've had a no-smoking reservation for a week," I told her. "Why can't we have that one?"

I'm going to find the maitre d', she said desperately and scurried away. More waiting. I found I wanted that table.

Finally, the maitre d' arrived. Warm, gracious. He explained that the people who were going to be eating there were already here, in the bar. We were completely won over, charmed into taking a table with a banquette near the door to the bar.

"There are no couples in the bar," one of my guests whispered as we sat down.

One hour and a half later two elderly couples came to claim their table by the window. This annoyed me no end. Maybe the four of them had been knocking back drinks in the bar all that time, but I doubted it. We'd been had.

And how about the rest of the staff? Four complaints about our waiter come immediately to mind:

When we were ordering, he couldn't tell us what the "variety of sauces" was that the menu promised with the poached shrimp.

He asked if we were OK as he rushed by our table, not stopping to hear the answer.

He got actively, one could say aggressively, involved in our discussion of whether ice dancing is an Olympic sport. Without being asked.

I requested the check and he gave it not to me, not to my husband, but to my male guest.

On the other hand, he was good-natured enough -- just a little overworked.

So the service had some glitches. On to the setting. The dining room has a great view of the South River; but it's surprisingly plain, just a big featureless room with lots of tables, off-white banquettes, mirrors and frosted glass. Elevator music played in the background.

None of this prepared us for the food, which is definitely not plain.

Each plate was a lovely creation, carefully arranged for maximum visual impact but not fussed over. The kitchen uses fruit and vegetable relishes and "marmalades," which look pretty, taste great and add individuality to the dishes. Plates are garnished with sprigs of herbs.

Start with oysters Ashley, the fat little oysters nestled in a bed of anise-flavored creamed spinach with one slice of tender scallop on top of each. A great combination. Or salmon cured in citrus vodka with the usual accompaniments of capers, chopped egg and red onion plus thin, crisp toasts flavored with dill.

Thin slices of chilled baby chicken, tasting faintly of a honey glaze, were set off memorably by wild mushroom marmalade. Best of all our starters were golden-crusted scallops with a little relish of prosciutto and capers arranged in a pool of vinegary, buttery sauce. Fantastic.

Fergie's looks like a place to get a crab cake; and you can, although it won't be your usual crab cake -- it's flavored with sherry and curry powder. We were tempted but finally decided instead on beautifully fresh salmon grilled with fiery Southwestern seasonings, tempered with creamed spinach and a timbale of rice.

You might expect nothing but seafood on the menu, but no, meat and poultry predominate. Fork-tender medallions of pork loin were sauteed to a lovely gold, then placed over a risotto with vaguely Middle Eastern seasonings. On the side were a bit of homemade chutney and a spoonful of fresh fruit relish.

The same fruit came with the duck, a crisp-skin leg and tender slices of breast meat. It was arranged on an unusual (with duck) but appealing white sauce, decorated with tiny circles of green onion. A pretty swirl of whipped potatoes and slices of steamed squash completed the plate.

On a chilly evening Fergie's lamb chops, tinged just pink and redolent of garlic, olive oil and rosemary, were enormously appealing. They lay on a bed of white beans flavored with pancetta (Italian bacon).

Everything, in fact, was good here -- from the hot rolls and sweet butter to the creme caramel with fresh strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. Everything, that is, except the pie crusts. Both the Key lime pie and the apple tart had fabulous fillings. I can still taste the tangy richness of the one and the sliced apples and almond paste of the other. But their crusts were rubbery.

If you must have chocolate, there's a chocolate pate that will satisfy the most wicked cravings.

Fergie's kitchen, in other words, turns out food that's often terrific. Is it worth the hefty price tag? Maybe -- if you, like me, will put up with poor service and indifferent atmosphere for great food. Maybe not -- if you're like a friend of mine, who describes herself as such a sucker for ambience that she'll eat a cheese sandwich and be happy if the place looks and feels right.Next: Aegean

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