After many visits to the Oregon Grille over the years, I was finally seated in the main dining room — the one with the mahogany booths, equestrian prints and piano player; the one I always looked at wistfully as I was steered by it.
Previously, I was relegated to a side room at the Hunt Valley restaurant, sort of like being seated at the kids’ table. Now, I felt special.
The excitement didn’t last long. Our uninterested waitress didn’t spend much time with us. We often had to rely on a food runner to alert her that we needed drinks or were interested in dessert.
On a positive note, we weren’t rushed through our meal and had plenty of time to savor each course. The restaurant, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, can be counted on for sumptuous dishes, including hefty slabs of grilled meat and pristine seafood (5-pound steamed lobster, anyone?).
The Oregon Grille calls itself a steakhouse for a reason. The dry-aged prime cuts are thick and luxurious, from an 8-ounce filet mignon to a 24-ounce rib-eye. They come with few additions, so consider a side dish, like broccolini or a baked potato, to flesh out your meal.
Be curious about the prices of dishes listed as “Mkt,” or market price. Our steak au poivre — a marvelous tube of New York strip coated with crushed black pepper and set in a Cognac demi-glace — was an eye-popping $60. But we had leftovers for days.
To get the evening underway, diners are treated to tapenade and herb-cream-cheese dips with exactly three crackers per person. A hefty book lists hundreds of wines to pair with your dinner. Specialty cocktails like a Manhattan and a cinnamon White Russian, along with imported and domestic beers, are also represented.
The appetizers are elegant palate teasers with numerous choices, from a chilled shrimp cocktail to a beef-tenderloin carpaccio. The baked oysters, featuring plump Bluepoints with creamy crab imperial and Gruyere cheese, were delectable.
A tuna tartar, called a fancy-sounding “parfait,” was another lovely starter. The rosy fish niblets were mounded atop a clean-tasting cucumber base with a sprinkling of caviar on top. Splashes of chive oil gave a fragrant herb note.
You can get salads like a mix of greens or a traditional wedge with blue-cheese dressing, but we really liked the crunch of the Oregon. A plate was arranged with mild Belgian endive, mushrooms and hearts of palm, accented with tart Granny Smith apple slices.
Besides the steak choices, familiar entrees like salmon and rack of lamb are offered, customized with various ingredients by the kitchen. For instance, a pork chop is dressed with a Calvados (apple brandy) jus, and the crab cakes are bedecked with avocado mousse. We liked the simplicity of our bacon-wrapped scallops — an agreeable pairing of sweet seafood with a salty partner — nestled with baked tomatoes and sautéed spinach.
The desserts were beautiful but ho-hum. A flourless chocolate cake and a key lime pie — with enough whipped cream to thrill the child in all of us — were technically correct but didn’t add any excitement to our meal.
While the Oregon Grille has relaxed its dress code to “business casual,” jackets are still preferred in the evening, but not mandatory, I was told. On my visit, several gents were in shirtsleeves among the suited guests.
The northern Baltimore County restaurant has more competition than when it first opened two decades ago. But it delivers a winning combination of well-prepared food in a pastoral setting. It’s even better if you’re allowed into the main dining room.
The Oregon Grille
Rating: 3.5 stars
Where: 1201 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley
Contact: 410-771-0505, theoregongrille.com
Open: 11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Appetizers, $9-$21; entrees, $30-$48. There are several market-price dishes with varying costs.
Food: Steak and seafood
Noise/TVs: The dining room can become loud as the evening progresses; three TVs.
Service: We were welcomed into the restaurant by a pleasant, courteous maître d’, who opened the door for us and escorted us to our table. Our waitress performed her duties perfunctorily but was often busy with other diners when we needed her attention.
Parking: Parking lot
Special diets: Can accommodate.
Reservation policy: Accepts reservations.
Handicap accessible: Yes
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]