With stints as a horse stable, a blacksmith shop, a private home, a general store and a dirt-floored saloon, Manor Tavern has certainly been a jack-of-all-trades. In the heart of horse country, it's a romantic retreat today for some patrons and a casual neighborhood joint for Monkton locals.
The tavern's duality is achieved, in part, by the restaurant's two distinct and lengthy menus -- a white one of moderately priced, casual American cuisine and a red one of more expensive Continental classics.
Therein lies a problem. Perhaps if the kitchen had fewer appetizers and entrees in its repertoire, dishes would be more masterfully executed. Many of our selections at dinner suffered from an inattention to detail.
The vast restaurant offers both formal and casual dining rooms. We opted to sit in the livelier casual dining room, awash in poinsettias and bustling with countless holiday office parties. The fireplace snapped and nearby conversation surged as we studied both menus.
Our waiter is to thank for one of the high notes of the evening. I chose a classic restaurant wine, a 1994 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay. As he took our order, he leaned in to explain that for his money, he preferred the 1995 Beringer Chardonnay at a couple of dollars less. The Beringer was a pleasure, with its big, mouth-filling tropical fruit flavors.
We forwent the bread basket's bland, pillowy white bread in favor of a big round of appetizers. A winter salad of romaine lettuce, pine nuts and walnuts was a hit, with its subtle poppy seed bacon dressing. But a cloyingly sweet dressing on another salad ruined our enjoyment of its mixed greens dotted with crumbled Gorgonzola and chunks of pear.
Shrimp bruschetta had less to do with shrimp and more to do with two long toasts inelegantly arrayed with rounds of fresh mozzarella, a dab of basil pesto and wan-looking tomatoes; cold cocktail shrimp provided a garnish.
Our order of Old Bay-tinged crab dip was hidden under tomatoes and cheese. Why, we don't know. The dip was studded with big chunks of sweet crab, but its taste was lost when spread on thick triangles of hard pita.
For entrees, sea creatures received more expert treatment than landlubbing species. A nicely cooked rockfish fillet was ladled with dill-flecked beurre blanc and strewn with tender pink shrimp. The dish was accompanied by unsauced angel-hair pasta and a pile of crispy haricots verts (tiny French green beans) marred by a couple of hard, tasteless cherry tomatoes in their midst.
Another fish entree, the evening's special, was an Asian-inspired sesame-seed-crusted salmon fillet nestled against a jumble of sauteed vegetables. The dish was pleasant except for its humdrum, hoisin-style sauce.
Tuscan-style filet mignon was our most unappetizing-looking entree. Two rosy petit filets were paired with what we at first took to be two poached eggs. Upon closer examination, these revealed themselves to be fluffy balls of fresh mozzarella -- tasty, but incongruous with the dish's main attraction. Hunks of roasted portobello mushrooms, mesclun greens, roasted red peppers and crisp baked polenta wedges lent more Italian flavor but were tossed helter-skelter on the plate.
Our other meat entree was more visually appealing. Three lamb chops leaned against a mound of garlicky mashed potatoes (cold the first time around) topped with frizzled leeks and a side of roasted red onion. Unfortunately, the garlic, leek and onion had more kick than the poor lamb chops could handle.
In an overzealous nod to the season, three out of four of our desserts were garnished by swirly red, white and green Christmas sauces. They seemed appropriate for the neon-green, chocolate chip-topped mint cheesecake, but a macadamia nut tart and an amaretto cake were just overwhelmed. Only a competent pecan pie served with rich vanilla bean ice cream escaped the festive swirling.
Where: 15819 Old York Road, Monkton
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner, brunch on Sunday
Prices: Appetizers: $5.95-$7.95; entrees, $4.99-$24.95; major credit cards
Call: (410) 771-8155
Pub Date: 1/05/97