|White Oak's burger, fries and housemade ketchup|
To: Richard Gorelick, Baltimore Sun
Date: March 20, 2014
We had a fun night at White Oak Tavern, but we hope that you'll let them get a few more months under their belts before you visit.
White Oak is new Ellicott City restaurant that aims to celebrate local farms, seasonal food, and craft beers. It's a friendly place, newly-renovated with wood and stone and newly-joined into the "farm to table" trend. It's a smart place with real ambition.
There's nothing better than meeting a restaurant that wants to show off its wares. I read the beer list, and I couldn't pick between two. The waitress went straight to offering tastes of both. Two tastes. Both excellent beer. Both described perfectly. And one was just wrong. I clearly don't like beers with "caramel." I ended up with a hoppy, bitter IPA that absolutely made my meal.
The fun parts of our meal were corn bread, a burger and a great dessert. The menu has small plates and entrees. They're trying for seasonal food. They're trying for local farms. They're trying to be unique. The corn bread comes in a dense, moist wedge sparked up by a thin layer of melted cheese. The burger comes with house-made ketchup, a tangy sauce, and Atwater's brioche roll that made it stand out.
|"Cookies and Cream"|
Mid-winter is never a fair time to judge a seasonal restaurant, especially one that wants to thrive on Maryland produce. On the winter menu, the only vegetables on the small plate menu were deep-fried mushrooms, so the farm product that drew us in was a beet salad that turned out to be a mistake. Cubed beets. Slivered fennel. Huge chunks of soft onion. Oranges and goat cheese, all with a cup of quinoa dumped alongside.
My fear is that a real restaurant reviewer would stop in his tracks. Nothing held the salad together. The flavor was flat and bland. The fennel was too small to crunch. The onion so big that it felt sad. I want to see more quinoa in the world, but the next menu will hopefully edit that salad. My hope is that spring and summer will bring vegetables so delicious that White Oak can really put them front and center. Maybe the vegetables listed as "ala carte" are special enough be like small plates that we have had Pure Wine Cafe or Woodberry Kitchen. We realized afterwards that we might have enjoyed kale or broccolini.
It takes ambition to be something special, and it takes time to work that ambition into meals like Woodberry and 8407 Kitchen Bar where this "farm to table" trend makes drama from simple ingredients. While we're waiting, I'm going back to White Oak for more dessert. We had a "Cookies and Cream." That's vanilla ice cream served with dark gingerbread cookies. Ice cream from South Mountain Creamery in Middletown. Cookies made with real ingredients that leave threads of ginger and a deep, intense flavor.
We both agreed that White Oak's cookies ranked up with Le Comptoir, which makes many of the best desserts around. If anything, we'd want them notched into the ice cream so we could pick them up for dipping -- rather than lined with chocolate sauce and put under the ice cream.
White Oak is a cool place, and it's definitely worth seeking out on Rte 40. I want success for this round of new restaurants that want to be special enough to draw diners from across the county and reviewers from Baltimore -- White Oak, Gadsby's Bar American, the Highland Inn, and Petit Louis. I want to give them time to do all that work.
Could someone explain the allure of beer lists on televisions? Kloby's Smokehouse has them. White Oak has two in the dining room. I don't have young eyes anymore, but I can't read them across the room. Even when I can, it is just a name. White Oak had a terrific two-page beer list with a paragraph on each beer. The descriptions helped me pick -- and made me want to order more.