Bartlett Pear Inn is the name of Alice and Jordan Lloyd's boutique inn on Harrison Street in Easton. It's also the name of their wonderful-in-every-way restaurant on the inn's first floor.
It is a superb restaurant. The atmosphere is serene and relaxing, the service achieves a rare balance of proficiency and warmth, and the food is consistently satisfying.
There are moments of culinary drama, mostly at the beginning, when your senses need stimulation, and at the end, when you want a finale to whistle about on the sidewalk. In between, the approach is calmer but, for the diner, no less thrilling.
For an example of sensory arousal, take the Octopus Garden, a composed salad of grilled octopus, peppery mizuna, sinuous carrot slivers and translucent radish slices. Centered on the composition is a pearly white dollop of curry and kaffir lime ice cream, which is garnished with jet-black shards of squid ink tuile. We're just getting started. The whole thing is bathed, tableside, with a pitcher-full of flavored stock. Your senses go a little haywire, like when you see the word "yellow" is printed in red, but the flavors and textures have a perfect logic.
And later, during dessert, your server pulls up a cart, and your fellow diners pivot as one to witness the flambeing of the Grand Marnier sauce for the evening's special dessert, a peach jubilee consisting of local white peaches, Venetian vanilla-bean ice cream and an herbed pound cake tuile. It's an effective bit of theater.
But the fundamental appeal of Bartlett Pear has nothing to do with flourishes and fandangos but with the rock-solid technique and intelligence that the chef, Jordan Lloyd, brings to everything on the menu.
And you think, sitting in Bartlett Pear's 30-seat dining room, which is as quietly beautiful as a strand of cultured pearls, how lucky you are to be in Maryland in August, eating a gorgeously conceived salad of local tomatoes, and how pretty it looks, with its dots of herbed pesto and 300-year-old aged balsamic, and the mozzarella basil "pinwheels" on the restaurant's bone-white china and crisply white tablecloths.
You feel smart, too, because you've asked your waiter to suggest wine pairings, and he comes through every time, with reasonably priced options from Bartlett Pear's wine list. And when you ask him if it would be a good idea to convert an entree of burgundy truffle mushroom pappardelle into a separate shared pasta course, he says it's a brilliant idea, as though you alone among Bartlett Pear's diners had been smart enough to think of it.
We lost our minds over that pasta. Our waiter told us, after we rhapsodized about it, that it's a Bartlett Pear signature dish, a fixed item on the monthly changing menu. Truffle, and truffle oil, can be overused or misused as an ingredient, but here the ragged shavings of summer truffles increase the dish's appeal, which is robust and earthy but oddly delicate, too. The ribbons of white pappardelle have been formed into rosettes, which are presented upright in an oval black dish.
Lloyd's menu is appealing and inventive but not assertive. The entrees are built around familiar things like sea scallops, wild salmon, pork loin, and duck breast, and the technique Lloyd uses to elevate them doesn't call attention to itself. The food is beautiful and it's always delicious.
A fillet of King salmon is encrusted in wild mushrooms, which sounds impossible, until you see it, and then taste how smart that combination is. The tender and juicy pork loin is presented without any affectation at all, just with sauteed greens, roasted corn and a bright red-pepper Tasso sauce.
If you struggled hard to detect a false note, you might decide that Bartlett Pear has over-sold its house-cut French fries, served with both a homemade ketchup and a mustard cornichon mayonnaise. Otherwise, there is hit after hit, from the homemade bread served with soft whipped butter to the chocolate tart made from Sibu Sura Chocolates in nearby Myersville, which gets served with orange marmalade and chocolate ice cream.
The Bartlett Inn could raise the culinary standards of any city. Natives of Easton, the Lloyds spent most of their 20s in cities like Washington, New York and Miami, where Jordan worked at such top-flight restaurants as Michel Richard's Citronelle and Thomas Keller's Per Se.
In 2009, the Lloyds moved back to the Mid-Atlantic. The former Inn at Easton became available just as another restaurant project Jordan had committed to seemed to be stalling indefinitely. The Lloyds bought the property and renamed it the Bartlett Pear.
Five years after opening, their restaurant is serving one of the best dinners in the state, if not the entire Chesapeake region.
Bartlett Pear Inn
Where: 28 S. Harrison St., Easton
Contact: 410-770-3300, bartlettpearinn.com
Open: 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays
Prices: Appetizers: $11-$16; entrees and sandwiches: $28-$38
Food: Chef-driven regional cuisine
Service: Professional, informed and personable
Parking: Free street parking
Outdoor seating: There is additional seating on an enclosed side porch and on a patio
Children: Children are welcome, and the kitchen is happy to adjust menu items
Special diets: The kitchen can accommodate most dietary restrictions
Noise level/televisions: Normal conversation is fine in the main dining room. There are no televisions in the restaurant.
[Star key: Superlative: 5; Excellent: 4; Very Good: 3; Good: 2; Promising: 1 ]