Wow- the Shab Row Bistro and Wine Bar, which I talked about here, got a not so kind review this past weekend by Tom Sietsema in the Washington Post. You can read the full review here, but I think you have to be a subscriber (free) to read the whole article. Some highlights:
[Referring to French Onion soup] …but the bowl’s thin broth, minimal onions and cap of blond cheese distance themselves from the classic.
Even sorrier is the cassoulet, which does a great imitation of a vegetarian casserole. We dig and dig and dig for any sign of meat and come up with just a morsel of shredded pork.
A few days ago Mrs. F and I had a rare childless evening. So we decided to try someplace new. Any place with wine bar in the title gets our vote so off we went to the Shab Row Bistro and Wine Bar on East Street in Frederick. This newer restaurant was once the tasting room for Frederick Cellars, but they split the building. Now Frederick Cellars has its facilities completely on one side and the new restaurant on the other.
The owners have made some changes and the eating area is stylishly decorated with muted earth tones, pictures by local artists and a zinc bar. They also have a four table outdoor dining area overlooking East street, but on the day we went it was just too darn hot to sit there. They are serving a limited menu right now, but their website indicates that they plan to expand it in the fall. We had a cheese plate, the crostini, a caprese salad special and the vegetable flatbread. Plenty of food for two moderately hungry people. The food was quite good. They have a nice selection of cheeses to choose from and the three spreads that came with the crostini were excellent. The flatbread was nice and I really appreciated that the vegetable topping had not been cooked into mush and was still crispy and flavorful. The service was also very attentive. They had about 40 wines by the glass and Mrs. F and I had fun picking and sampling a variety.
While I thought the food prices were a little on the expensive side the wine prices were excellent. Everything they had by the glass was available in 2 or 6 ounce pours and the wines by the bottle were really a good value. Most restaurants sell wine by the bottle for double or even triple retail. Shab Row’s prices were significantly less than that. Furthermore they have a wine store in the back and they will pour you anything there for a $9 corkage fee. I didn’t explore the wine store as we were having too much fun with the wines by the glass. Their website also lists their happy hour times which look worthwhile.
Bottom line: If you think of this as an excellent place to drink some wine with some decent finger food on the side you won’t be disappointed.
The Tasting Room (101 North market Street)- I go there several times a year and I have to say that the food that I have had has always been uniformly very good with occasional bursts of excellence. They serve what I would call contemporary American Cuisine. I also love the fact that the menu changes from season to season. (It changes faster than their website which at the time that I write this still has their Fall 2007 menu on it). This time I had the shrimp with linguine and spring vegetables. It made a nice light, springtime lunch. It was ostensibly dressed with white truffle oil, but I couldn’t taste the truffles. I tend to gravitate towards the pasta because it is always cooked perfectly; I know al dente means different things to different people but they hit my al dente spot. I also tried some of my companion’s Sicilian tuna steak which was superb. Had a great crust on the outside and moist and perfectly cooked on the inside. Much better than my linguine!
As the name implies they have a good wine selection. The shoot for coverage rather than depth, and the list has a little bit of everything so its fairly easy to find something you like. Their wine list is around 100 bottles. They also have a bunch of wines by the glass. I had a nice Sancerre which went well with the shrimp.
It’s a fun space and different from most other Frederick restaurants. It’s located in a beautiful old building with very modern decor. Specials are written on chalkboards and there are etched glass panels with pendant lighting which creates an interesting juxtaposition between the old architecture and the modern decor. Occasionally with all the windows you feel as if you are in a fishbowl, and the tables are quite close together so its not a place for an intimate dinner. Again ( A Fred pet peeve I know) but I always wonder why restaurants feel the need to keep a TV going. It always seems to cheapen the atmosphere in a nice restaurant. On the plus side the service is always formally impeccable and a cut above most other restaurants in Frederick.
All in all the Tasting Room is one of the premiere fine dining restaurants in Frederick. This comes at a price however. The tab with tip for two lunches, two glasses of wine and one dessert (a delicious creme brulee by the way) was $68. This generally puts it in the special occasion category for me. You don’t have to get a meal though. They have a nice bar where you can get a glass of wine (or two) or one of their specialty cocktails and take in the scene. Their mojito looked good and I intend to go back and try one soon.