How does one celebrate five years of marital bliss when living in thickets of mid-Atlantic suburbia? If that suburbia is the Howard County version, you head to Tersiguel’s. Before we dive into the actual “review” (review in quotes because what am I, an expert?) let’s take a second to think about what Tersiguel’s means to Ellicott City. It is the place for fine dining in Howard County. Point of fact: mentioning we were dining at Tersiguel’s elicited appreciative “ooooo”s from three different ladies, all strangers, all of whom fixed me with the “aren’t you a nice boy” look. The owner makes an effort to be part of the community and hosts the kinds of events not generally found in your average suburban restaurant. (Sorry, Applebee’s, et al.) They are a local small business in an area dedicated to cultivating local small business, an endeavor I love. I want to
like love Tersiguel’s. Alas. But we’ll get there.
Downtown Ellicott City has a great feel, the perfect place to spend an anniversary evening. The missus and I headed in a little early, copped free street parking right across the street from the restaurant, and walked over the Wine Bin. That’s right, I cleverly planned our evening to begin with some free drinks- the Wine Bin offers free tastings. Boom. They were pouring selections of “Thanksgiving wines.” I kind of ruined the “free drink” plan by actually buying a bottle of the Marzinao Abbona Cinerino, but hey! I liked it. And it’s for Thanksgiving! We really enjoyed the company at the Bin- our “pourer” was a super friendly volunteer (!) who actually recommended the Marzinao in the first place.
Fortified, we crossed the street to Tersiguel’s, about twenty minutes ahead of our reservation time. The place looks great, a handsome old house on the twists of Main Street. Stone steps into a small foyer, and the already attentive staff opened the door for us. We were off.
Service: Fantastic. Although mostly comprised of what appeared to be high school students, the staff was friendly without being clownish, attentive without being overbearing, really doing everything right to make the evening an pleasure. Our server, Erin, was super enthused about the entire menu. You know how most servers reciting the specials seem either listless or smarmy? Erin was so damn breathless about the whole thing I thought she was going to pass out, like she was genuinely excited to be able to server us these meals. She also worked with the bartender to get the wife a well thought through cocktail with input = “rum, fruity” and output = Planter’s Punch. (Note here: Tersiguel’s does not have a cocktail menu, instead relying on tried-and-true classic bar recipes. I ordered a Maker’s Manhattan and it was well done. However, while I despised the now-dead “martini list” trend, I do enjoy restaurants offering some bartender’s specialties or seasonal offerings. Check Woodberry Kitchen’s cocktail menu for an example. While a minor thing, with a really expensive meal you want all wickets hit.)
Ambiance: I really liked the feel of the place, a (I think) converted home. The rooms are small and the bathroom cramped. It successfully comes across as visiting an old, European house for an extended family meal. Although I generally disdain stuffiness, I’ll accept the servers’ goofy tuxes as a bid for luxuriousness. (It would seem more impressive if I was Nick Carroway.)
Food. Sigh. I think an initial caveat is in order here. Mentally, I was comparing Tersiguel’s to our last anniversary meal at Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt. I love the inventiveness of a place like Volt, where even if a dish isn’t a full five stars, you can admire the techniques and execution. Although Michel Tersiguel shares an admiration for locally sourced ingredients and a seasonal menu, his food is (rightly so) more traditional and hidebound. Unfortunately, however, the food simply didn’t stack up. We started with a salad of pickled green tomatoes served on a crouton with herb cream cheese, an amuse-bouche served compliments of the chef. While the salad was excellent, the crouton seemed stale- perhaps the bite had been assembled too early, or the cream cheese spread too thin, allowing the crouton to become soggy. That became the running theme of the night- dishes that were just a bit off, the execution not quite there to allow the meal to be amazing. For the main courses, we ordered a seafood appetizer, duck, and veal. I was pleasantly surprised when our waitress offered to serve the entrees as separate courses, allowing both of us to enjoy everything equally. (I also think we made out on the deal- both plates seemed like almost full portions, rather than split, rather to my wife’s detriment.) The appetizer, with four different types of seafood served four ways, was good if traditional. (Fried calamari [a touch rubbery], mussels in a shallot broth, little neck clams in a chorizo broth [not as good as Iron Bridge’s], shrimp in a garlic broth.) The duck was served two ways, leg confit with polenta and seared magrets with roasted tomatoes. The leg was perhaps the highlight of the whole meal, although drier than one would hope, and the polenta bland. The breast was cook excellently, but the acidity of the roasted tomatoes just drowned everything out. I think the fatty breast was meant to balance the acid out, but the ratio of duck to tomato was so skewed in the tomato’s favor poor Mr. Canard had no chance. (It’s possible that our split plate was at least partly to blame, but that would mean they serve a breast with four whole tomatoes. Still way off, and you would like to think they would adjust their plating regardless.) The veal was tender, but literally drowning in its shitake sauce, which itself was too salty. Dessert was split fifty-fifty; the wife had a fantastic flourless chocolate cake, which was more mousse-like than its unfortunate brick-like brethren found elsewhere. My coffee ice cream was passable, although cleverly served in a bowl made of ice.
Overall. Tersiguel’s suffers in its geographical co-location with two major urban centers, particularly one recognized as an up-an-coming restaurant city. For the amount I paid to dine in Ellicott City, I could have suffered through a bit of a drive and visited a place verging on world-class. The food didn’t come close to touching the best of what Baltimore and D.C. have to offer. With that said, I would recommend it for a night where you want to stay close to home (perhaps the baby-sitter’s meter is running) but want to have a fine dining experience. The service, coupled with supporting our community, are reasons enough to visit…once. Next time, though, I’ll be taking my anniversary dollar elsewhere.