I had lunch at Old Anglers Inn with ol_ironstomach yesterday, and having had Nick Palermo’s cooking in the past, knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t know it was going to be *this* good.
I’ve never really understood the dish Soup du Jour ($8), as it seems to be different every time I order it. Anyway, yesterday it was a Cream of Mushroom soup with mushroom fricassée, and it reminds me of why I’ve been having a renaissance of late with mushrooms. For awhile, I’d over-ordered them and got long-term sick of them (which is how I am right now with scallops), but recently, I’ve found myself falling in love with them all over again. This was a great soup, piping hot, with essence of mushroom both in the broth and the fricassée, aggressively but not over-salted, and along with the fireplace and the charm of an inn serving diners since 1860, a wonderful welcome to today’s winter chill.
Dave stuck with a second small plate for his main, and got a fabulous Roasted Spanish Octopus ($13) with black-eyed pea ragu, olives, and tomato fondue. Hinging on the quality and execution of the octopus, this was a triumph, the firm-but-tender octopus legs cut into thick coins and served on a beautifully seasoned mound of primary black-eyed pea ragu. If you have any inkling (get it?) for octopus, do not hesitate to order this fine and hearty appetizer.
Unless, of course, you want to celebrate Thanksgiving early like I did, ordering the Roasted Amish Chicken ($20) with Granny Smith apple and chestnut stuffing, chorizo, brussel sprouts, and chicken jus. First of all, the chicken: it was darned near perfect, with a crackling, crispy, skillet-hot skin encasing brined, moist, tender meat – even the breast meat was interesting and … no, it wasn’t “interesting”; it was excellent. Filet mignon and chicken breast are two dishes I consider to be chef-weeders because nobody seems to have the ability to cook them – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with either cut of meat, but so few people are able to pull them off. Well, this is in the running for “best chicken in the DC area.” And the stuffing was just wonderful, intelligently not relying on too much of anything – with the possible exception of chestnuts, any one of these ingredients could have ruined the dish had it been too prominent, but it was not the case. The brussel sprouts were peeled into nori-like sheets and not served in the “death-ball” format that Waitman so throughly despises. Just when I was insisting that you order the octopus, along comes this chicken. Get it!
Old Anglers has a “lunch deal” where if you order an appetizer and entree, you can get 50% off dessert, and our charming, enthusiastic server was raving about pastry chef Tressa Wiles, so Dave and I “bit,” so to speak, ordering one dessert apiece and splitting them both. My Rosemary and Fig Cake ($9) with roasted figs, and yogurt-and-fromage-blanc sorbet was lovely, especially the firm figs and homemade sorbet, my one niggle was the actual cake which was a bit too similar, both in form and flavor to the rosemary focaccia we got in our bread basket – this of course is somewhat coincidental, but I would advise Chef Wiles to change up the cake itself while leaving the rest of the dish intact. Dave went straight for the Gingerbread Cake ($10) with poached pear, and molasses-and-vanilla ice cream, the entire dish being a winner with me, and the little cuts of pear being similar in size to the small figs on the other plate. It was tough to say “I’ve had enough,” and pass the last bite of each back across the table while I finished my Cappucino (a painful $6 because I had two, and Dave had one).
Of note: seated right next to us was none other than Sam Donaldson. A gentleman of manners and politesse, standing up until his companion was seated, standing whenever she stood, wearing an elegant blazer and speaking in a commanding voice. I was very impressed with his presence in this quiet, mostly empty restaurant, until his cell phone rang, and he began having a conversation right then-and-there, in a raised cell-phone voice. I understand that Mr. Donaldson is 79 (and fresh off a DUI dismissal!), but unless this was President Obama on the phone, it would have been nice had he waited to take the call until after lunch, or excused himself from the table. Still, I’m willing to cut him some slack simply because of his age.
Old Anglers Inn, long-forgotten by the DC restaurant world, is suddenly a serious contender for Best Restaurant in Suburban Maryland, with deferential nods to Sudhir Seth and Jeff Heineman. Make no mistake, it’s right up there with The Red Hen in quality, and in fact, I see something of a similarity in style (distant cousins) – if you like one, I think you may like the other. Give it a try – it’s been too long.