Because of a computer error, the ratings in Sunday's review of Ashley M's Restaurant in the Home & Family section were incorrect. They should have read: food:***, service: ***, atmosphere: ***
The Sun regrets the errors.
Am I missing something, or is there a reason Ashley M's doesn't draw a crowd every night? This pleasant, moderately priced restaurant is the newest venture of Ed Rogers, chef and owner of La Tesso Tana. It has the relaxed feeling of a neighborhood spot; but with its white tablecloths and good-looking decor, Ashley M's is nice enough for a special occasion.
At dinner time you can spend as little as $5 for a sandwich or a hamburger, or you can have buffalo steak with a green peppercorn, brandy and cream sauce for $24. The menu is an odd but appealing combination of Italian, wild game and "old style" American dishes. (Rogers started off as a chef in Little Italy.) In other words, it's a menu that ranges from flounder piccata to rattlesnake salad to a country-style fried-chicken platter. There's also a separate section of vegetarian entrees. Most entrees are priced under $20.
The second-floor dining room and bar is divided into several cozy spaces decorated in warm, earthy tones. The background music is worth listening to. There's original art on the walls. All in all, it's ambience with a little bit of soul to it.
The food works very well in this context. The show stopper of the evening was a first course of alligator. Thin slices of the most delicate white meat imaginable had a fragile golden crust and a light lemon-butter sauce sparked with dill. Arranged beside angel-hair pasta, it was nothing short of fabulous.
Our other first courses were less unusual, but nicely done. Baked brie came with a warm raspberry sauce and little toasts - enough for our whole table to share. "Minestra" soup, made with a fresh-tasting chicken stock, was filled with corkscrew pasta and bright vegetables. An Ashley salad was a simple but pretty salad of mixed greens in a tangy-sweet raspberry vinaigrette.
Our main courses didn't let us down. Semi-boneless Muscovy duck was the star with its juicy meat, a complete lack of fat and crisp golden-brown skin. A fragrant Bing-cherry sauce was intensely flavorful without being cloyingly sweet. The baked half-tomato with a crumb topping was an unexpected but not unpleasant accompaniment.
Linguine alla Ashley featured shrimp and lump crab meat in a rich but not too thick cream sauce over tender pasta. A succulent fillet of salmon sported a crust of poppy seeds and a pleasingly tart lime-butter sauce with just a hint of soy sauce.
Least successful was the chopped venison steak, a bit dry because it had so little fat. Still, it was cooked pink as ordered, and its red-wine sauce with peppers, onions and mushrooms was potently flavorful.
The kitchen let us down in only one instance: The vegetable that came with our dinners, yellow squash cooked with onion and tomatoes, tasted odd. It had been flavored with something acrid that I couldn't identify.
The dessert tray included pastries from Patisserie Poupon, so it's hard to go wrong there. Our favorite was a turtle cheesecake, a creamy slice with a thin layer of chocolate, caramel and pecans on top. But a dense chocolate cake frosted with chocolate came in a close second.
Food: *** 1/2
Service: *** 1/2
Where: 911 N. Charles St.
Hours: Open for lunch Tuesday through Friday and Sunday, for dinner Tuesday through Sunday
Prices: Appetizers, $4.50-$9; entrees, $9-$24; major credit cards.
Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair: **; Poor: *
Pub Date: 5/17/98