Reynolds worth a visit, oddities aside Confirm reservations and try to steer clear of the roast rack of lamb

March 26, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Reynolds Tavern has all the makings of a four-star restaurant: cozy, old-fashioned atmosphere, intriguing menu selections, tasty food and a pleasant wait staff.

But something about this historic inn on Church Circle in Annapolis is a little off, with little things that don't quite fit.

Problems started for my dinner companion -- my mother -- and me while we tried to make reservations.

The first time we called, last month, we were told the kitchen was shutting down early and that unless we could get there by 8: 15, we couldn't eat. The second time, several weeks ago, we made reservations without any hassle, but when we called to confirm the day we were to eat there, we were told that the tTC governor had rented the place for the night.

The third time, we called to confirm a hour before arriving, but the hostess told us that the restaurant was having a problem with the kitchen and that the dining room might not be kept open. We went anyway, and our waitress told us that the problem was that the staff was swamped with hamburger orders from the bar downstairs.

Any of those excuses could be legitimate. But taken together, we found ourselves frustrated with the place before we got there.

When we arrived Friday, we were surprised to find only three couples in the dining room. The room was pleasantly decorated with vases of fresh flowers, turn-of-the-century tapestries and glass canisters filled with candles. We would have given it high marks for the authentic feel had it not been not for the pitch-black dining room across the hallway.

Many restaurants use one room when only a few customers show up, but most at least keep a dim light on or a few candles lighted in the empty rooms. There was only one waitress working Friday, no managers and a hostess who appeared mysteriously from a back room, none of which sent a "welcome to our restaurant" message.

We were pleased with the menu, which offers a variety of creative dishes, including blackened, pan-fried catfish, Thai peanut pork medallions and veal etoufee.

For appetizers, we tried the fricassee of wild mushrooms in a brandy herb sauce for $5.95, which was wonderful. The mushrooms were fresh and varied, the sauce was blended perfectly and it looked like art on a plate.

The oysters, simmered in chardonnay and butter for $5.50, also were tasty but smelled a little fishy, often a sign they aren't as fresh as they could be.

The seafood soup for $4.25 a bowl, which Reynolds has made into its signature menu item, lived up to its delicious reputation.

I tried the house smoked salmon fillet entree for $18.95. It was quite good despite the powerful smoky flavor. My mother ordered the roast rack of lamb for $24.95, which looked pretty but which she swore was pan-fried lamb chops.

The Grand Marnier Creme Renverse, vanilla custard laced with liqueur on a puff pastry, was a heavenly dessert. Our bill, including a $22 bottle of wine but not including the tip, came to $96.71.

Reynolds Tavern is worth a visit, but call a few times first and steer clear of the lamb. You might as well go to the bar downstairs, where you're sure to be fed burgers. From the noise coming up the stairwell, it sounded as if that was where the party was.

Reynolds Tavern

Where: 7 Church Circle, Annapolis 410-626-0380

Hours: Dinner, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Prices: Appetizers, $4.25-$6.75; entrees, $12.95-$24.95

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express

Rating: ***

Ratings: * culinary wasteland

**** culinary heaven

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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