A trip to the French countryside

Restaurant: Tersiguel's in Ellicott City captures the feel and the tastes of rural France

Sunday Gourmet

July 18, 1999|By Kathryn Higham | Kathryn Higham,Special to the Sun

Walk into the foyer of Tersiguel's in Ellicott City, and you'll usually find owner Fernand Tersiguel looking over the reservation book, warmly greeting guests, and perhaps darting into the lounge to sneak a peek at a soccer game on television.

This is his house, it's clear, an impression reinforced by the restaurant's location in a historic home on Main Street. And like a comfortable home, there is nothing fussy or deluxe about the decor at Tersiguel's. The fanciest touch is the pair of chandeliers in the entryway; the most charming is the stone planter with bright pink cosmos in the garden room in back. That's my favorite place to dine, even though dried leaves occasionally fall from baskets hanging overhead.

This country French restaurant is a family operation, with Tersiguel's son, Michel, as chef de cuisine, and his wife, Odette, handling pastries and desserts. Most vegetables and herbs come from their farm in Baltimore County. Except for the excellent bread by Bonaparte Bakery in Savage Mill, almost everything is made in-house -- including their creamy-rich goat cheese.

The best dishes at Tersiguel's are often the simplest, like the moist pan-roasted free-range chicken served with an appealing jus de poulet, a stock-based sauce seasoned with herbs, roasted tomatoes and long-cooked garlic cloves. Another, the coquilles St. Jacques, pairs fat, milky-white sea scallops with a delicate ginger-lemon-grass sauce that doesn't overshadow the seafood. Similarly, a light sauce full of whole oyster mushrooms brings out the flavor of herb-topped, pan-roasted rockfish. Wonderful vegetables, like buttery green beans and potatoes -- roasted, mashed or layered with thyme and Gruyere -- accompany entrees. Precede any of these dishes with an appetizer of garlicky escargot, finish with a scoop of rich homemade chocolate mousse and leave happy.

But things sometimes go wrong. On our visit, it was the steak au poivre, which our polished waiter informed us is a signature dish. Ordered medium-rare, the two pieces of tender filet mignon first arrived raw and purple. Sent back to the kitchen, they returned blood rare. There was no pepper crust on the meat, but the essence of pepper flavored the elegant cognac cream sauce served with it.

At $9, the small salad of the day had tired-looking greens that were less appealing than their fresh-from-the-farm description. We liked the combination of blue-berries, strawberries and a round of breaded and baked goat cheese, though. The soup of the day, sweet potato vichyssoise, was smooth and rich, but far too bland. We preferred the intense flavors of the crumbly-moist pork pate dotted with sharp mustard sauce on crusty bread. Even better was the socca nicoise, crisp, greasy-good wedges of chickpea crepe onto which we layered goat cheese, fresh sardines and chopped olives. It was the taste of the French countryside in one mouthful.

We later learned that chef Michel wasn't working the night we visited. He had taken his parents to the airport for their trip to France. That also explained Fernand's absence at the door.

Several months ago, I had an exquisite chef's tasting meal that Michel prepared. My husband and I were dazzled by six courses, each better than the last. Our waiter, who made the meal feel like a culinary event, described each dish and the reason he had chosen the wine to go with it. Starting at around $45 per person without wine, it may be the ultimate way to experience Tersiguel's.

TERSIGUEL'S

Food: * * *

Service: * * * 1/2

Atmosphere: * * *

Where: 8293 Main St., Ellicott City

Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $4.50-$9.95; main courses, $19.95-$27.95

Call: 410-465-4004

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

Pub Date: 07/18/99

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