I did something really radical last week. I went to a restaurant in Frederick for brunch. Without doing any research.
Under most circumstances I am not prone to que sera sera when it comes to dining. The main reason for the Frederick visit is to see Artomatic, which by the way is a fun outing, even if most of the art isn’t particularly mind-blowing.
Brunch is just an afterthought. I am not sure how this happened (the afterthought part) except that the Jewish holidays took some of my focus away from my ability to think clearly about restaurant meals ahead.
When you are trying to come up with a restaurant for six people, two hours in advance on a Sunday morning, the options aren’t always the best. Volt is certainly out. But Isabella’s Taverna & Tapas Bar can accommodate us, and the menu looks interesting, so Isabella’s it is.
The first thing we notice about Isabella’s is that the choices are overwhelming. There is a brunch menu, but we are also welcome to order off the lengthy tapas menu. This is too many options for me. I am immediately drawn to the “Ensalada de Espinaca con Queso de Oveja” more commonly known as baby spinach tossed with fresh strawberries, apples, goat cheese fritters and citrus vinaigrette. My friend orders this as well, adding grilled salmon. I go for the chili shrimp.
The goat fritters are the star here. They are light and crisp and oozing delicious goat cheese. The shrimp are also nicely prepared and the chili spice packs the right amount of heat. On the down side, there are almonds strewn across the top. The menu says nothing about nuts on this dish. Major no no in my book. There is also too much dressing on the salad.
My friend has a salad with smoked trout, brie, mixed field greens and walnuts with citrus vinaigrette. She also is dismayed by the heavy hand of what sounds like a light and refreshing dressing. A reminder to us of why it’s always best to get dressing on the side. Our bad.
My husband has two poached eggs with portabella mushroom on toasted English muffin and hollandaise. He finds the dish to be lackluster. He’s perfectly satisfied with the potatoes, as is another potato-lover in the group when asked how he likes his food. “Good potatoes,” he exclaims more than once.
Another friend has eggs with lamb sausage, which sound a bit more exotic when described on the menu in Spanish as “Salchicha de Cordero a la Plancha con Huevos.” They are good, although exotic they’re not.
I am aware that every restaurant meal does not have to be a culinary masterpiece. Isabella’s serves good food, in a pleasant atmosphere, in a town that I’ve come to enjoy as a weekend destination. That said, I can usually measure a restaurant by asking myself “would I go back?” In the case of Isabella’s, the answer is: maybe for the tapas, but probably not. Had I spent a little more online time researching Frederick options, I may have landed somewhere a touch more satisfying.
Of course, there never are any guarantees. Even hours of planning and recommendations from friends and professional critics can fall flat sometimes. I know this, yet with the publication of Tom Sietsema’s Fall Dining Guide in the Washington Post Magazine this weekend, I’m furiously amending my current to do list to reflect restaurants that seem worthy of a return visit (Palena Cafe, Bibiana) or for a Sunday outing to the south (Ashby Inn in Paris, Virginia).
Is there a method to my madness when it comes to dining out?
Sometimes there is.
Isabella’s Taverna & Tapas, 44 N. Market Street, Frederick
My rating (on a 1-5 scale): 3.2