For This, Four People Pay $200?

Restaurant: Peerce's Plantation is not inexpensive, but on a recent evening the food was only fair, and the service was worse.

June 20, 1999|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Ah, the pleasures of dining on the Peerce's Plantation patio. Watching dusk settle slowly over the verdant trees and still lake. Being cooled by the soft breezes of the fragrant night. Enjoying the gentle patter of a summer shower on the canvas awning. Staring in disbelief as a car skids on a suddenly slippery curve, shoots across the road in front of us, bounces once in the air, does a 180-degree turn and lands with a thud, headlights pointing at the patio.

Not that you can blame Peerce's for people speeding around a dangerous curve and crashing across the road from its patio. I mention it only as a metaphor for our evening there.

After a moment, everyone started eating again. Our waiter happened to make one of his rare appearances at that point, so I asked if someone should go help.

He looked over, as if noticing the car for the first time. "No," he said. "It happened once today already. I'll go call the police."

Eventually a man got out of the car, staggered across the road toward us, and disappeared into the front entrance. A woman got out on the other side a few minutes later and did the same thing. The police never came. End of story.

But wait. Here's an even better metaphor for the evening: Our good warm bread came with a spot of green mold. This in a restaurant where entrees average $25.

In the '80s, Peerce's Plantation was one of the area's fine places to dine. People went for the reliable Maryland and Continental food, first-rate service and genteel setting. Over the years the kitchen has had its ups and downs, and I've had good meals and not-so-good meals there. But nothing like this.

Although Peerce's has a new executive chef, Jeff Shields, it's the same sort of food the restaurant served a decade ago. The menu still features elaborate concoctions of steak or seafood, bearnaise or cream sauces, puff pastry, lump crab meat and asparagus (sometimes all in one dish).

That's fine if it's done well, but too often our meal was rich and heavy and oddly flavorless, even when the basic ingredients were superb. An appetizer of shrimp in a creamy dill sauce had no taste of dill. The seafood strudel was mostly melted Swiss cheese with not enough seafood. A special of sea bass coated with black and white sesame seeds was bland.

Tuna with lump crab meat, sun-dried tomatoes and lime butter would have been fine if it had been cooked medium rare as ordered, not well-done. That was true of the rack of lamb as well. (And the waiter carved it table-side, so he knew it wasn't cooked properly.) Its "sauce" was a glutinous brown gravy. At least a filet mignon special topped with crab and bearnaise came as ordered, juicy and pink.

But what was truly enraging was that in a half-empty restaurant both our appetizers and entrees sat endlessly. The busboy brought them out and set them tantalizingly near our table, but it was a long time before our waiter showed up to serve them. The excellent crab soup was lukewarm, sauces had congealed, vegetables were room temperature.

What else could go wrong? The waiter brought a mesclun salad for one of my friends instead of the arugula she had ordered; and when the arugula salad arrived, the greens were too gritty to eat and the "spicy pecans" were missing. I got tea instead of decaffeinated coffee. Another of my friends got decaffeinated coffee instead of the coffee she had ordered, and the waiter forgot her dessert.

One of us eventually had to go and fetch the water pitcher when no one came to fill our glasses. That's a first for me in a restaurant where dinner for four with one moderately priced bottle of wine came to over $200 before tip. (Not that our waiter ever asked us if we wanted a second bottle.)

After we said we'd like to see the dessert tray, we waited with dirty dishes in front of us while the waiter disappeared and then came back to chat leisurely with the folks at the table next to us. When he finished, one of my friends said, "The dessert tray?" as he walked past. He came over and told her, "That table was in a hurry." Not "I'm sorry" or "I'll be right back with it."

I stood up, knocked over my chair and screamed, "WELL, WE'RE IN A HURRY, TOO."

No, I didn't. But I wanted to.


Food: **

Service: *

Atmosphere: ***

Where: 12450 Dulaney Valley Road, Phoenix

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $9.50-$10.95; main courses, $22.50-$32.50

Call: 410-252-3100

Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

Pub Date: 06/20/99

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