Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Review: The King's Contrivance

I'm going to owe my wife for this, big time.

When I arrive in a new town, the first thing I do once I have my rental car is find the training center where I will be spending the week. The next thing I do is find my hotel. Upon arriving in Baltimore, I set about to find what was a relatively easy to locate training center. Unfortunately, a wrong turn on the way from there to my hotel sent me into a residential neighborhood, rather than the freeway. As I navigated a street that I was sure was incorrect, I saw a sign that said "Restaurant", with an arrow pointing to the right. I decided to check it out, and discovered a manor that appeared to have ample parking, and was probably a little bit nicer place to eat. As I drove around the roundabout in front, I noticed ladies in dresses getting out of their cars, seemingly confirming my suspicions. Attired as I was in jeans and a favorite bowling shirt, I decided to wait to check things out until I was at least wearing khakis.

Today I wore khakis and an untucked button-down shirt. Since this is just about the nicest I ever dress, I decided that now was as good a time as ever. As I approached the turn, I saw a sign that proclaimed this The King's Contrivance Restaurant. As I parked my rental car next to a parking lot full of Beemers, Mercedes, Lexii and the occasisonal Honda, I noticed a "KC" sigil on the front of the building.

As I entered the building, I became increasingly worried that I would not be able to afford dinner. The Matre'D was neither friendly nor unfriendly, but was every ounce professional, polite, and possibly just a bit snooty. Though I suspected he was irritated at having to seat a single person who couldn't be bothered to even tuck in his shirt, he still directed me to a small table where I was handed a thick wine list and a menu which featured a prix fixe menu and a standard dinner menu. Fortunately, the prices did not seem too high on any of the items.

I ordered a seafood bisque and the roasted duck. The waitress informed me that the chef recommended that the duck be cooked to medium. When I politely replied that I preferred my duck to be medium rare, she did not bother to hide a smile that told me that she approved of my decision. I noticed from that point on that the wait staff became increasingly friendly, if still very reserved and professional. I almost wanted to order wine just to see how they handled it, but I stuck with water.

I was served a roll with tongs longer, if no fancier, than any that I own. The roll had rosemary in it, but was certainly nothing special. It was served with a plastic ramekin of butter, piped with a star tip and then chilled so as not to be the least bit spreadable. Since I had no dinner companion, I finished my roll and was left with nothing to do but to stare into space or surf the web on my phone. The waitress brought me another roll, which seemed to be a crustier, chewier, and somewhat older version of the first roll.

The bisque was a delight. I've gotten increasingly tired of shrimp in recent years, yet the few pieces in my bisque were excellent. Neither the shrimp, nor the lobster or the crab were tough, and while the flavor was complex, it was not overly so.

The duck was also excellent. I noted with satisfaction that the waitress placed it in front of me with the protein facing towards me. This is one of the little things that separates the really nice places from the wannabes. While I can't say I was too terribly impressed with the cut on the duck, the flavor was beyond anything that I had ever eaten that had once quacked. The sauce was perfect for the duck, and I found myself wishing I could bring a vat of it home with me. It was served with garlic mashed potatoes that were just a little overcooked, but I doubt that most people would ever notice. I'm quite frankly mad at myself for noticing. A cheese crisp sticking out from the potatoes was most tasty, though I couldn't figure out what kind of cheese it was. Certainly not Parmesan, but also certainly in that class. A roasted pear was served on the side, and thanks to it, I may never be able to eat a canned pear again. It was perfectly cooked, and while it lacked seasoning, I don't think it really needed it. The slight imperfections in the way it was fanned told me that it was cut by hand, not some machine in the back. The haricoverts made me nervous, as green beans always do, but I found myself eating every last one of them. The chef seemed to realize that vegetables require the same amount of skill and attention as everything else on the plate. The roasted garlic butter was a component that was so natural, that it seemed wrong for haricoverts to grow in nature without it.

I've been away from my chocolate collection at home for too long, so I went with a chocolate truffle cake for dessert. The truffle on top was good, but the cake itself tasted more like a real truffle than it did. In fact, while the ganache on top was thick and rich, the cake beneath it could almost have stood up on its own. The raspberry coulis and cream sauce on the plate were obviously meant to be there, rather than being the obvious after-thought that they usually are. Whipped cream with a fresh raspberry and a perfect sprig of mint (useless, but perfect nonetheless) completed a dessert that surprised me in its simplistic facade and masterful execution.

My check (not counting my 25% tip) was about $40, for one diner with no drinks. If you ever find yourself in Baltimore, try to dress a little nicer for one evening and find your way down to The King's Contrivance Restaurant. I feel nothing but guilt that my wife was not able to join me. Obviously, the only solution would be for my bosses to send me back to Baltimore so that I can bring her with me (hint, hint).

The food was excellent, the service was decent, the decor was nice, if a little rustic. Based on the events of one visit, I award The King's Contrivance 3 1/2 Kagas.

3 comments:

  1. Presumably five. But to earn five would almost require the chef and staff to have the ability to walk on water. 3 1/2 is actually a pretty high score.

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  2. The reviewer was a little lost. This restaurant is NOT in Baltimore. It is about 30 minutes away, closer to DC.

    I was the first bar manager and assistant matre'd at the Kings Contrivance in 1975, when it transitioned from being run by ARA (yes, the institutional food service) to being operated by a privately owned but very professional restaurant company. It's actually in the Village of Kings Contrivance, one of nine such villages comprising a town called Columbia, MD - about halfway between Baltimore and Washington.

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