My compass usually points south towards the district when I think about where to dine on a Saturday night. But a recent drive up Route 270N to the Maryland city of Frederick proves to be particularly satisfying. Many Washingtonians associate Frederick dining with Bryan Voltaggio’s excellent establishment, Volt. Just a few blocks away is another worthy dining destination, The Tasting Room.
As someone who only ventures to Frederick on an occasional basis, it’s hard to avoid comparisons with Volt. The Tasting Room, helmed by chef/owner Michael Tauraso, is more low-key. It has an elegant yet relaxed vibe, a simpler menu, and food that isn’t fancy, but still exhibits creativity.
A good meal can easily be made great by competent managers, hosts, and wait staff. The opposite is true as well, but we won’t go there. The Tasting Room weighs in on the plus side. I really like the food, and our experience is heightened by a manager new to the role from his former position behind the bar. He has made the right move.
While a table isn’t immediately available, he tells our party of four that it’s important we be seated quickly since it is our first visit to the restaurant. He follows through moments later, exhibiting some good decision-making skills, and endearing himself to us in the process.
On to the food.
Our server takes over from the host in the affable department. My friend is impressed that he doesn’t pass judgment on her decision to stick to starters and a salad for her meal. “Excellent,” he says. His recommendations come with just the right touch of humor and insight.
Fuji apple salad with arugula, celeriac, golden raisins, blue cheese, candied pecans, and celery seed dressing arrives nicely apportioned into two parts, after I quietly remark that my husband and I are splitting it. Why oh why do some restaurants refuse to do this? It’s pretty on the plate, and pleasing to the palate.
I covet my husband’s unique cauliflower soup with chunks of roasted cauliflower settling in to the bottom of a bowl filled with a flavorful broth, ditalini pasta, red pepper, and romano cheese. I want the recipe.
Seared scallops with sweet corn and pearl pasta risotto, cucumber salad, and puffed rice perfectly suits my desire for an entree on the lighter side. It’s not quite as full-flavored as I expect, but it is well-conceived. The succulent scallops elevate the dish.
The real hit, however, is filet mignon with au gratin potatoes. It arrives to the table with a seductive sizzle. I can’t refuse a bite. The meat fulfills its promise with a slight exterior crunch, and the most tender meat I’ve ever tasted.
On the other side of the table my friend is raving about yellow fin tuna carpaccio with saffron aoli, crunchy wasabi peas, and capers. I am too swept up in the scallops and filet mignon to steal a bite, but she describes it as “off the charts.”
We conclude with a duo of housemade sorbets. Light honey lemon hits just the right note. But chocolate lovers shouldn’t miss the decadently-dense chocolate sorbet. My friend absolutely swoons over the poached spiced pear in phyllo, and a light cream filling. She declares it her favorite dessert ever.
Both host and server have checked in periodically throughout our meal, solidifying my perspective on the importance of attentive (but not overly-so) service to a dining experience. The Tasting Room has some excellent dishes to be sure, but it’s not just the food that exhibits good taste in this well-respected Frederick restaurant.
The Tasting Room, 101 N. Market Street, Frederick, MD
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