Friday, April 25, 2008

The Shamrock - My Luck Runs Out

It was a perfect evening weather wise – so down the convertible top went and up the highway we went. Thurmont was our destination, the Shamrock our dining choice. It was my father’s suggestion to give this old Irish standby a try – and so we did. (In general, you should always listen to your father)

I actually liked the ambience – it was kind of old-fashioned, cozy with lots of clover decorations. It was kind of like your grandmother’s house if she were the nurturing, cooking, apron-wearing, chintz-covered sofa kind of grandma. (Mine was more the kreplach making, oy-gevalting, “No, you don’t need to change the lightbulb, Dark is Good” kind of grandma - so this was new to me!)

The menu was short, but the offerings were solid: fish, steak, chicken, crabcakes. On the recommendation of the server, we ordered crabcakes ($22) , the haddock imperial ($22) , and an interesting-on-paper mixed seafood platter ($20 something).

In short, nothing was great. Nothing was really even good. It was all “OK”. The crabcakes were indeed moist – but tasted more like mayo than crab. The tasted-like-it-may have-once-been-frozen haddock was as firm as number 8 on the Serta perfect sleeper, and the mixed platter – yawn.

Dinners were accompanied by a little bowl of green beans. Now, I happen to like green beans. I can eat them prepared in a myriad of ways. But, remember the grandma reference earlier? Well, she would be in luck with these veggies.

Grandma (or maybe even grandma’s grandma) could have eaten these mushy green cylinders even after her teeth were efferdenting-ing in the glass on the bedside table. Gee whiz - did they pick them up at the Golden Corral buffet?

I will now say something nice. The wine offerings were an amazingly excellent value. A full bottle of Kendall Jackson Reserve Chardonnay was about $23. That’s hardly any more than retail – and a fraction of the ridiculous markups that most restaurants embrace. So though the food made me sad...the wine made me glad!

Alas, a not so pleasant dining experience at the Shamrock. The clover didn’t bring us any luck at all.

Lucky Corner - Lucky You!

I have been a huge fan of Vietnamese food ever since my first taste back in the early 80’s. 25 years ago, this branch of Asian cooking was not yet the ubiquitous staple on the scene as it is now. I was duly impressed with the bright flavors and the generous use of herbs and aromatics to boost flavor. Pho and Bun became regular go-to dishes when I was in the mood for Asian.

Over the last 25 years since my first taste, I have had the chance to sample both wonderful and pedestrian versions of my favorites. I have found Lucky Corner at the corner of 7th and Market Street to be a mostly pleasant place to have a meal.

As has happened with much of the ethnic food that is served in the US, the chefs , in an attempt to appeal to the masses, dumb-down their offerings. In Asian restaurants especially, this generally takes the form of dumping mounds of sugar into the dish. Yes, the kids will then love it – but adults with a hankering for authenticity can be thwarted by a sugar rush.

This is the case with some of the dishes at Lucky Corner. In particular, the Black Pepper Shrimp (or sometimes chicken) tastes more like dessert than an entrĂ©e. I know that sugar is a traditional ingredient in this dish – but it is an accent flavor and shouldn’t be the primary taste note.

The summer rolls are insipid – lacking any oomph to stand on their own. The hoisin/peanut/sriracha dipping sauce is an absolute necessity to get any flavor. I’m not sure why these are so pricy – they are mostly noodles topped by an almost transparent sliver of shrimp, a touch of mint and tightly bound in moistened rice paper. I will say that I am always impressed by how tightly they can roll these things. My attempts at home never duplicate their results.

On a brighter note – the pho is very good. A large portion filled with all the usuals – thinly sliced meat, bean sprouts, lime, jalapeno, noodles, aromatic with star anise. Sometimes the basil & cilantro are missing – but a request to bring an extra plate of them is always fulfilled quickly. The large is more than enough for two to share.

The Cha Gio are tasty – but as is common in restaurants, they aren’t filled with enough of the good stuff that you would expect for the price. I always hope for seasoned ground pork, shitakes, maybe some nice crab. There are just too many fillers in these bites to qualify as a good value. But, as a lover of just about anything fried – they do taste good – especially when wrapped in a lettuce leaf and dunked in the nuoc nam.

The bun dishes are very good – nice and light with plenty of grilled meat (the grilled pork is sweet and carmelized), perched on a bed of lettuce, chilled cucumbers, scallions and rice vermicelli. The nuoc nam is, of course, a bit on the overly sweet side – but is otherwise nice and pungent. It doesn’t have a kick like some do – so you have to add your own heat if you like some spice.

Overall, I do like Lucky Corner. It’s not the most authentic Vietnamese food I’ve ever had – but it’s definitely worth putting on your go-list.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fajita Grande - Once grand, Now Bland

A note from the Diva, added on July 11th.... Though I used to love it, Fajita Grande has let me down lately. The food has gone from bright and sassy to kind of mushy and muddy. I am still very much enjoying the margaritas - especially if Sam custom blends one for me. But, I'm afraid I'm not the fan I once was..

In fact, the last visit was especially disappointing. The Chile Rellenos were not made from whole chiles - rather, there seemed to be strips of chiles kind of placed haphazardly in the batter. Could barely taste them - mostly tasted like egg & flour. Ugh.

I have been back 2 more times since the chile relleno fiasco. They have not improved. Thus, sadly, I am removing my earlier laudatory posting and review....