By Kit Waskom Pollard, For The Baltimore Sun
5:04 PM EST, December 31, 2012
All restaurants make mistakes. How they handle them is a test of their mettle.
During our visit to 4 Seasons Grille in Gambrills, the kitchen messed up, serving a piece of undercooked chicken. But the staff handled the error professionally and swiftly, and raw chicken aside, the dish was good, leaving us with a positive impression of the place.
Located in the Village at Waugh Chapel, 4 Seasons is part of a small, locally owned chain. Inside, the space is full of warm colors and comfortable booths, most of which were filled with families and small groups of friends on a recent Thursday night.
Immediately after we sat down, one young man filled our water glasses while another brought us warm triangles of focaccia with a small dish of oil, sundried tomatoes and pesto for dipping. (The dish also included a mound of butter, covering all the bases.)
A moment later, a waitress arrived to take drink orders. She was back in a flash with a glass of smooth Chianti ($9.50) and a Tanqueray and tonic ($7.50) so stiff it took our breath away.
The restaurant bills itself as Mediterranean, though there's a decidedly American spin on most dishes.
Our first course, the goat cheese brulee, was a mishmash of flavors and textures. Goat cheese, whipped smooth, was blended with roasted garlic, pine nuts and sundried tomatoes, for a mix of savory and tangy.
On top was the "brulee": a crust of Parmesan as sweet as the sugar topping on its namesake dessert.
With warm pita wedges, drizzled with acidic balsamic vinegar, for dipping, the appetizer was tasty all around and, thanks to the sweet crust, interesting and unusual.
Dinner arrived speedily, but with the kitchen glitch: "butcher paella" ($10.99) with one piece of chicken that was entirely raw on the inside. The rest of the sizable dish — a combination of filet, chorizo, chicken, carrots, onions and peas cooked paella-style, with rice — appeared nicely cooked, with the noticeable aroma of saffron. But we didn't get much of a chance to dig around the plate.
As luck would have it, the undercooked chicken was the first meat we cut. Realizing it wasn't cooked through, we placed it on a bread plate and methodically sliced through the rest of the chicken in the dish (it was all thoroughly cooked).
After just a minute, our waitress stopped in to check on us. She noticed the chicken on the bread plate and asked if there was a problem. As soon as we said, "It's undercooked," a manager swooped in to take care of business. She apologized, asked if we wanted a different meal, and whisked our plate off to the kitchen to have an entirely new dish prepared.
When the fresh plate arrived, not 10 minutes later, it was hot, cooked properly, and discounted by 50 percent.
Though the rice lacked the bottom crust for which traditional paella is famous, its taste made up for what it missed in texture. With stick-to-your-ribs heartiness and plenty of savory flavor, 4 Seasons' Americanized take on the traditional Spanish meal was a good one.
A flatbread ($10.99), half topped by spicy crab and half by grilled vegetables, was satisfying and drama-free.
On one side, cream of crab soup, made spicy with chilies, was a base for flaky crab, tangy roasted tomatoes and a sprinkle of bread crumbs for crunch. The soup was a smart touch; its flavor bolstered the flatbread's seafood essence while its creaminess balanced the spicy chilies, keeping the heat bearable.
On the other half, eggplant, zucchini and peppers, all grilled until soft and slightly charred, topped melted mozzarella. The flatbread was advertised with ricotta and gorgonzola; if they were included, we missed them. Even without, however, the dish worked.
For dessert, a slice of limoncello torte ($6.99) was airy, moist cake layered with sticky frosting. Sweeter than we expected, with an undercurrent of tart lemon, it was a pleasantly light end to the meal.
Throughout dinner, not only were our waitress and the concerned manager on top of things, the 4 Seasons busing and food-running staff was incredibly prompt. At one point, we spied the crack team clustered in the corner, ready to descend upon diners, clearing plates and refilling drinks.
With that kind of attention, by the time we left, the undercooked chicken incident felt far in the past. The entire meal could have been ruined by that one sour note. Instead, good service from a well-trained staff made the night a good one.
4 Seasons Grille
Back story: Opened seven years ago in the Village at Waugh Chapel in Gambrills, 4 Seasons Grille serves good Mediterranean-inspired food in a warm, family-friendly atmosphere.
Parking: Lot in front
Signature dish: The half-and-half flatbread, topped with half spicy crab and half grilled vegetables, is crispy and satisfying. The crab half, dressed with bread crumbs, roasted tomatoes and chili-infused cream of crab soup, is just spicy enough. The veggie half, covered in gooey mozzarella and grilled eggplant, peppers, and zucchini, tastes savory and fresh.
Where: Village at Waugh Chapel shopping center; 2630 Chapel Lake Drive, Gambrills
Contact: 410-451-5141; http://www.4seasonsgrille.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. (Bar stays open later.)
Credit Cards: All major
[Key: Superlative: *****; Excellent: ****; Very Good: ***; Good: **; Promising: *]
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