Much, much better than before

Restaurant: Crossroads has changed directions and made big improvements since a visit three years ago.

August 29, 1999|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

When I last wrote about the Crossroads, before the Cross Keys Inn became a Radisson, I said that the waiter got the food on the table quickly; but given what most of our meal tasted like, that could be considered a minus. Harsh, but true.

Three years later the fact that the inn has now become part of a large chain didn't mean the kitchen was going to be any better. But, I figured, at least it would be different.

Although a couple of million dollars was spent renovating the hotel when CapStar Hotel Co. took it over last year, the dining room looks much the same. And that's good. It's contemporary and comfortable, cunningly divided into smaller areas over two levels. Charming folk-art murals and little candle lamps add warmth to the space, and a glass wall allows customers a view of the Village Square.

The menu may be changed soon, I was told, but right now it's the typical combination found in a hotel dining room when there isn't a coffee shop: as many salads and sandwiches as full dinners, and those dinners mostly American steak and seafood dishes. The dinners, though, have some haute-cuisine touches, like a really good hollandaise. Our meal this time around, I'm happy to say, was so much better than the last one that there's really no comparison.

Things got off to a rocky start when we ordered a bottle of wine. "Three glasses?" our waiter asked, and we said yes, thinking he was asking if all three of us were having wine. He brought, of course, three glasses of wine. Instead of simply taking them back when we explained the mistake, he said, "I asked if you wanted three glasses."

One of us ordered the smoked mozzarella and basil ravioli as a first course. He brought her fried mozzarella sticks with marinara. When she complained, he said, "I don't cook it, I just serve it." Which I thought was a bit much, considering that fried mozzarella sticks aren't even on the menu.

He redeemed himself by acting quite properly through the rest of the meal, and even bought us dessert at the end to make up for the mistake.

And while I'm on the subject of service, on a second visit I heard another waiter tell a customer who asked if the hamburger was good, "If you want beef, you better order the steak." Not that I don't appreciate honesty, but the customer clearly wanted something less expensive. He asked about the club sandwich next, and the waiter said, "It's OK. Lunch meat is lunch meat."

Nice guys otherwise, they both just needed a little guidance from management. ("Loose lips sink ships.")

The food, though, is polished; and that's what's most important. True, consomme "with petite vegetables and crab meat ravioli" contained no vegetables and had one ricotta cheese raviolo. But it was a superb consomme, fragrant and complexly flavorful, with large lumps of crab meat in it.

Ricotta cheese ravioli showed up again when we finally got the smoked mozzarella and basil ravioli. The mozzarella seemed to have been grated over the dish. While I doubt if the ravioli were made in house, they were good quality and had a lush roasted red- pepper sauce.

Large shrimp that had been marinated, chilled and placed on greens were also fine. The kitchen worked its magic with two sauces, one sparked with horseradish, the other a creamy sauce Louis.

As for our entrees, rack of lamb chops, pink and juicy, had lots of meaty flavor. They flanked a pretty mound of garlicky mashed potatoes decorated with baby vegetables, and were surrounded by an enticing Cabernet sauce redolent of garlic and rosemary.

Cedar-planked salmon, fresh and moist, was served on a plate, not a plank. It sat prettily on a bed of Swiss chard surrounded by a delicate pool of mustard beurre blanc.

Best of all was the chicken Chesapeake, the boneless strips sauteed to gold, then arranged on risotto with gigantic lumps of crab and a shrimp or two. A delicate, buttery sauce finished the dish off beautifully.

Desserts are pretty and good. Our waiter told us, when we asked if they were made in house, that they came from Ms. Desserts, but I doubt it. I would guess the warm apple tart, the achingly light chocolate mousse cake and the pretty fruit-topped pastry were from a good French bakery.


Food: ***

Service: **

Atmosphere: ***

Where: Radisson at Cross Keys, Village of Cross Keys

Hours: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, Sunday brunch

Prices: Appetizers, $6.95-9.25; entrees, $12.95-$24.95

Call: 410-532-6900

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

Pub Date: 08/29/99

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