Fine restaurants close to home provide an elegant setting for that special night out

Sophisticated fare with a taste of romance

March 19, 2006|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Romance is alive and well in Howard County restaurants.

Sure, the county is loaded with chain restaurants, fast-food joints and family eating establishments, but there are romantic choices as well - restaurants that serve sophisticated food and wine in beautiful, often historic settings.

So there's no reason to leave the county when planning a special night out with your sweetheart.

Here are six excellent choices for romantic dining in Howard.

Furnace Inn

The Elkridge Furnace Inn (5745 Furnace Ave., Elkridge; 410-379-9336) was first established as a tavern in 1744, but it was in ruins when Dan Wecker and his brother discovered it in the late 1980s. Their hard work transformed the site into an elegant and romantic country restaurant.

Wecker, a history buff, restored many of the architectural details. And his interest in the past extends to his cooking, which has classic French roots but is inspired by the Colonial history of the setting.

A salad might consist of braised greens with an onion vinaigrette, prosciutto and goat cheese, the entire thing stuffed into a cored tomato. A mixed grill features ostrich, duck and game hen, served with a sweet potato risotto and three relishes. For those craving more classic dishes, osso buco or leg of lamb are offered.

Desserts, like the rest of the menu, change frequently, but are just as creative and wonderful, with options such as a silky white chocolate mousse perched on a mild carrot cake or a decadent, fudgy chocolate torte.

The restaurant and 16-acre property are popular for weddings and other events, and its intimate rooms make it ideal for a night out with someone special. With advance notice, the restaurant offers "top of the inn" dining in the bridal suite. It's a great place to propose, we're told.

Jordan's Steakhouse

While some top-tier steakhouses feel like men's clubs, Jordan's Steakhouse (8085 Main St., Ellicott City; 410-461-9776) has embraced its feminine side. Instead of leather chairs and dark paneling, this restaurant, located in Ellicott City's cobblestoned historic downtown, has a softer look.

The steakhouse, built after a 1999 fire destroyed part of Main Street, oozes upper-crust 1920s sophistication, with its elegant jazz, plush fabrics and gentle lighting that plays off the rust-colored walls.

From flank to filet mignon, steaks are the main attraction - tender, liberally seasoned and served with salty, crispy shoestring fries. But the kitchen also creates delicious and delicate fish, chicken and vegetarian entrees.

Attention is paid to every detail, from that perfect bottle of wine to beautiful salads and sumptuous desserts arranged like small sculptures in martini glasses.

Iron Bridge

Beware the crowds at the Iron Bridge Wine Co. (10435 Route 108, Columbia; 410-997-3456), located along a rural stretch of Route 108 in Columbia, across from Clark's Farm. It seems that this romantic little hideaway has been discovered, and with good reason.

This restaurant packs a lot into a small space: a wine shop, an attractive bar, a corner with plush, overstuffed chairs, and a dining area with sleek tables lined along a window.

Though wine gets top billing in the restaurant's name - and bottles for sale are lined up in bins everywhere - the sophisticated, changing menu provides a delicious complement to what's in the glass.

The appetizers and small-plate entrees are made for sharing, but with choices such as warm duck salad and polenta lasagna, you may want to eat the whole thing yourself.

And if you can't decide which wine you want, consider a wine flight, which provides small glasses of several.

This is a place to taste, to share and to enjoy.

Tersiguel's

A special dining partner deserves a special meal, so how about filet mignon served with foie gras-infused mashed potatoes and truffle sauce?

That's the kind of sumptuous fare that has made Tersiguel's French Country Restaurant (8293 Main St., Ellicott City; 410-465-4004) an Ellicott City landmark. The restaurant, owned by Fernand and Odette Tersiguel, with son Michel serving as executive chef, serves up veal, duck, Kobe beef, escargot and other delicacies in a 19th-century building that was once home to the city's first mayor.

The well-stocked wine cellar means you'll have no trouble finding a terrific bottle (or three) to wash down the food.

King's Contrivance

Housed in a building that dates to 1900, The King's Contrivance (10150 Shaker Drive, Columbia; 410-995-0500) is large enough for weddings, yet, since it is divided into seven dining areas, can also feel intimate.

Open since 1962, the restaurant, which sits on 4.7 acres, serves a changing menu of rich classics such as veal Oscar or Roquefort-coated filet mignon, as well as some Thai and Caribbean dishes.

The 500-bottle wine list, said to be the largest in the county, helped the restaurant win an award of excellence from Wine Spectator magazine.

Great Sage

Who says you have to eat meat to feel romantic?

Great Sage (5809 Clarksville Square Drive, Clarksville; 410-535-9400), which opened in June 2004, is a vegetarian restaurant serving flavorful, imaginative food in an elegant environment.

White tablecloths, gentle lighting and excellent service all make this a special dining destination, as does the excellent selection of organic wines.

The menu is coded so that diners know if their meal is vegan, soy-free or gluten-free. Entrees, which include a Tuscan stack of polenta, spinach and roasted vegetables, and a Thai dish with the rich flavors of lime and coconut milk, are about flavor as much as health.

Desserts are so rich and delicious that it's easy to forget they are made without eggs or butter.

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