Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hinode Japanese Restaurant

Carroll Creek, Frederick

You know how they say that dining out on major holidays is strictly for amateurs? Well – I have another day to add to the list of dates on which you should just fire up the grill and stay home. Gallery Walk – First Saturday in Frederick. OMG what a fiasco.

In the perfect little world I had dreamed up, I thought I was enjoying the perfect trifecta:

1. A gorgeous evening

2. First Saturday of August and tons of people strolling the town and enjoying the Dog Days of Summer in downtown Frederick

3. Picture perfect setting for 16 of us to enjoy an al fresco meal at Hinode on Carroll Creek

Reservations for our outdoor tables were made weeks in advance. My brother and his family were coming for a visit - thrilled to escape the weeks of seemingly endless precipitation that was striking New Hampshire. What a welcome respite it was going to be for them to forget about building an ark and lounge instead in beautiful humidity-free Maryland! (Can you believe that Maryland was enjoying better summer weather than New England? How is that even possible? Truth stranger than fiction…)

Anyway, after an hour or two of shopping and admiring all the adorable dogs dressed as cowgirls, we arrived at Hinode – hungry and oh so very very thirsty. We were happy to find our table all set and ready for us. Good so far! Saturday night, cool breezes, and the dinner table waiting for us. Happy. And now, sad. Because having the table ready was as good as it got that night. You see, as it turns out, it really was just the table that was ready. Nothing else. Nobody else. Not a single sole at the restaurant was even remotely prepared to serve us. 7:30, 7:40, 7:45. Ghost town. Finally, one of our more assertive family members waved down a man that looked like he could have been the manager. He mumbled something about finding someone and disappeared into the building.

High hopes were dashed when this same suited man emerged from inside Hinode, alone, and proceeded to go off to smoke a cigarette.

Finally, at 7:50, our server arrived. Woo Hoo!!! He apologized for the delay, took our drink orders and scooted back inside. We were all still in good moods – socializing, chatting, catching up. Well, the adults were still in good moods. The 16-20 year olds were getting anxious. And by anxious, I mean really Hungry.

Around 8:00, our drinks started arriving. In shifts. First some water. But, they ran out of glasses, so only a handful of us got water. 5 minutes later, one bottle of wine. 5 minutes later – a lychee martini. They had also run out of regular sized martini glasses so the server promised to provide a free refill once my sister had polished off the mini-martini.

Eventually, some of the men got their beer.

The server told us that once we ordered our food, it could be a L-O-N-G wait because the kitchen was backed up and they were short staffed. We had no idea just how long L-O-N-G would be.

And here’s what irked me. I looked around at the rest of the restaurant – and it just wasn’t full. Thinking it may have been packed inside, I looked in there, too. Nope. Maybe 1/3 of the tables had diners. So how is that they were so backed up and ill prepared? How could they be out of water glasses? And martini glasses?

It’s not like Gallery Walk is a surprise occurrence that the Downtown Frederick Partnership foists upon unsuspecting merchants randomly. It’s the first Saturday of the month. Every month. That’s why it’s called First Saturday Downtown Frederick!!!

Pretty much, you can be sure that if you manage a restaurant and you are paying the price to be located right smack dab on the creek – then you are going to be rewarded with hordes of customers on the first Saturday of the month. Especially if the weather is nice. Hello!…had you checked it out, you might have had a clue! I apologize for the sarcastic digression. But really what I’m trying so ineloquently to say is that it should not have been a surprise that people were going to be there to eat. Plan for it man, plan for it!!!

Anyway…90, yes you read that right NINETY minutes after we arrived, dinner was served. Was it tasty? Yes. Was it fabulous? No. Was it worth the wait? Hardly. Was it enough food? Well, I’ll just put it this way. Within four minutes, every one of the diners under 25 (6 of them) polished off the very small but pricey portion and high tailed it to 5 Guys to get something substantial to eat. And Kudos to 5 Guys – the 6 of them were back in 10 minutes with hot burgers and fries! (See picture above)

Because we were all happy to be together and it was such a beautiful night, we did have a nice time enjoying the great outdoors and sharing glasses of water.

But, as far as ever returning during First Night? That would be a definite hi NO de

Friday, August 7, 2009

Cellar Door, Downtown Frederick

Cellar Door Restaurant

102 North Market Street

Frederick, MD 21701

301 695-8460

Dining Diva’s Grade for the Cellar Door: C .

Hanging around one early evening, thinking about dinner, and thinking about how I really didn’t want to actually get up and make dinner, I decided to log on to and see if anything good popped up. Hmm..there were all the regulars: Bushwallers, Liberty Road (no AYCE crabs though), Barley & Hops, Houlihans…same old same old.. Oh – but look! A surprise – Richard Belle’s new restaurant The Cellar Door is on the site. Bingo. .

The Cellar Door is appropriately named – basically there’s a Door on Market Street through which you enter. The lovely young lady stationed at the entrance escorted us down a flight of stairs that could best be described as stark. It kind of reminded me of the old Brown Pelican – remember how you had to descend a few stairs and then you emerged in a dark yet somehow cozy room? Well, it was kind of like that. We descended some dingy stairs and were pleasantly greeted with a dining room that was warmly lit and inviting. Nice.

Enough about the d├ęcor. Let’s talk about the food.

First, the appetizer - a $12.50 crab dip. If you like cream cheese and sour cream and some spice – then you are in luck. This dip had a preponderance of each. Personally, I like to actually find CRAB in my crab dip. In this case, the promised lump crabmeat was more of a passing notion rather than an integral component of the dish. Kind of like the vermouth in a James Bond’s martini…A hint, a suggestion, a wink. Listen, if the dish description says that it has Jumbo crab meat, than dag nab it make sure there are some actual hunks of crab somewhere in the bowl. On a positive note – it was nice and hot. Hot, melty, cream cheese and sour cream. Don’t get me wrong – I like hot cream cheese as much as the next college student – just not for $12.50, and not when I’m promised jumbo crab! With more crab in it, this could have been a winner.

Next up…Caesar Salad. Hmm… I guess if you figure that Caesar was an Italian guy and you figure it’s ok to substitute Italian dressing for Caesar…then I suppose it was a Caesar Salad. But if you think, as I do, that Caesar dressing is made from eggs, EVOO, worcestershire, parmesan and anchovies – well then, you would have been disappointed in the Cellar Door’s version. A basic green salad with vinaigrette. Grade: D

Scallops were listed as one of the evenings specials. Salivating, salivating - Love those creamy, rich, Diver scallops that taste as sweet as perfect summercorn. Before ordering though, I needed to make sure that these wouldn’t be those fat wet blobs soaked with preservatives and additives that prolong life and diminish flavor. I think I surprised the server with my question, as he had no idea what the difference between regular and diver scallops was. That’s OK – my kids wouldn’t know the difference either. I just wanted him to find out from the chef which they were. Bummer. Wet processed scallops.

All of us ordered some version of the filet. Voracious teenage boy ordered meat and nothing but meat. Voracious middle-aged man ordered meat and nothing but meat. Teenage girl and your very own Diva chose Surf & Turf – which was a juicy filet nestled alongside a crabcake.

The first thing we all tasted was salt. Salt salt salt salt salt. Now, I know that the quantity of salt consumed is a matter of personal taste. And, I personally enjoy a hefty dose of salt. But this was like the dead sea. Teenage boy thought the salt enhanced the flavor. Adults felt a bit of scraping was in order.

Lest you think all I do is complain – here’s a compliment…Salt notwithstanding, the filet was beautiful. Seared and cooked just as ordered, it was tender and juicy. Voracious teenage boy consumed entire meal in 3 minutes. Voracious middle-aged man kept pace. Dainty teenage girl and voracious middle-aged woman quickly followed suit with their filet/crabcake combo.

And, happy happy, the crab cake was stuffed with crab. Plump and round and delicious. The chef definitely did a better job with the main course than with the starters.

Would we go back to the Cellar Door? You betcha. We will just be mindful of the chef’s strengths and ask for a bit of restraint with the salt.