A first visit to Ashling Kitchen and Bar, the new restaurant in Crofton, reminded me of all of the movies I’ve seen about horseracing.
There’s always an early scene in which the mare is about to give birth. Excited humans flock around her. The foal is born, bright-eyed, alert. It takes a little time to get used to the new world. Soon it’s up on its legs, spindly and shaky at first, but quickly finding its balance. It takes its first steps and you can tell — it’s going to be sleek and strong.
So it is with Ashling Kitchen and Bar, opened just a few weeks ago on the site of Christopher’s, the longtime Crofton favorite. The space, in a small shopping plaza along Route 3 South, has been updated to casual and attractive. Our party arrived early on a weeknight. Tables already were filling. The host seemed a bit surprised at the busy pace, but they managed the flow smoothly and a server was with us quickly for drink orders.
Getting a new restaurant off the ground is tough in the early weeks. Are you getting the quality you need from your suppliers at the right time? Are kitchen employees forging into a smooth working team that keeps the prep, cooking and serving on time, even with a sudden rush of diners? Can your servers answer questions about the food (a special challenge when most diners are first-timers)?
Executive Chef Richard Sullivan and owners Elsie Letavish and Saeed Ashrafzaden have put together a clever menu: comfort food favorites, intriguing small plates as appetizers or light meals, and a surprising dish that probably is unheard of to most of the folks who open the menu for the first time.
We chose small plates as appetizers. Ten are listed, including mussels, crab bruschetta, sliders, and vegetable kabobs. Duck confit mac ‘n’ cheese balls ($14) came with a peppy sriracha ranch sauce. The pasta and cheese left plenty of room for the duck flavor and the sauce took a proper backseat to the food for a solid opener.
About to share a second small plate, we spotted poutine on the menu. Invented in French Canada in the 1950s, poutine is a rich blending of French fries and cheese curds, smothered in brown gravy. First scorned, it is today a symbol of Quebecois culture and pride. It is delicious. Sullivan offers a trio of variations: traditional (our choice $10); with bits of steak; and with lump crabmeat in an Old Bay gravy. Share it or you might not make it to the entrees.
Our entrees included tagliatelle primavera with chicken, ($21); charred salmon with risotto ($20); a porterhouse cut pork chop ($21) and rib lamb chops ($25).
The pasta made rich with San Marzano tomato sauce and fresh grilled vegetables and chicken was lively in flavor and freshness. Salmon came off the grill nicely charred yet moist with the creamy vegetable risotto a fine partner.
It was the grilled meats that signaled a kitchen still finding its timing and balance. The pork chop was quality meat and the first bites moist and flavorful. The closer to the bone, the meat that should have been medium was rare. The homemade applesauce was just fine. Ditto the lamb chops. More fat trimmed and more time in the pan was needed and the over-roasted potatoes with them didn’t help. Customers should never shy away from letting the restaurant know— particularly when they are new on the scene. Our server apologized, whisking the plates to the chef for inspection.
Desserts are house-made and good, especially ice creams ($4) and an elegant blueberry lemon verrine ($6).
Ashling Kitchen and Bar is off to an impressive start. Like a good racehorse, it’s got the makings of a sleek and strong winner.
If you go
WHAT: Ashling Kitchen and Bar
WHERE: 1286 Route 3 South, Suite 3, Crofton
HOURS: Tues. – Thurs.: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Fri. – Sat.: 11 a.m. – Midnight Sun.: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Happy Hours Tues. – Fri: 3:30 – 6:30 p.m.
CHEF: Richard Sullivan, Executive Chef
SMALL PLATES: $8-14
ENTREES AND SANDWICHES: $12 - 28
CREDIT CARDS; All major cards
RESERVATIONS: Not accepted