Bulle Rock, the public golf course that opened in Harford County last spring, quickly became famous for having extremely high greens fees - $126 a round, to be exact.
Bulle Rock (named after a famed thoroughbred) got more press when it was recently voted Golf Digest's best new upscale public golf course for 1998.
What you don't hear about is Bulle Rock's restaurant, which looks like a public golf course's dining room - nothing fancy, in other words - but has a chef who formerly worked at the Milton Inn and Hamilton's.
Here you are, sitting at a table near the bar, where the TV is on a little too loud, and you're not eating a hamburger. Instead you're trying to decide between grilled venison medallions with cannellini bean cake and cranberry essence or pork loin with dried cherry and apple compote in puff pastry.
We decided on the pork loin, and I'm not sure we made the right decision. The boneless slices of meat were thick and juicy and the fruit was pleasant, but the puff pastry turned out to be undercooked and chewy.
That was the least successful of our main courses. Almost everything else that came out of the kitchen was superb. The fresh succulence of grouper fillet was emphasized by its walnut crust and a delicate beurre blanc with slivers of green apple. Just-tender broccoli florets and little roast potatoes rounded out a pretty plate.
Pink and juicily flavorful tenderloin was enhanced by a dark, winy sauce. Pearl barley made an intriguing alternative to the expected potatoes, and green beans cut on the bias added color and freshness.
Just as good were slices of duck breast that fairly vibrated with flavor. The duck's fruity hoisin sauce complemented the gingery goodness of the accompanying sweet potato puree. Green beans on this plate came in the form of delicate haricots verts.
The menu is quite seasonal, with starters like an admirable butternut squash bisque, the very essence of the vegetable, with chopped pecans as a nice counterpoint.
This time of year you can get oysters on the half shell with a julienne of cucumber sparked with horseradish. The sharp tang of the horseradish should have drowned out the delicate flavor of the icy-sweet oysters, but somehow the dish worked.
One of our prettiest appetizers was a composition of portobello mushroom, spaghetti squash and fresh mozzarella. It was broiled and arranged with rock shrimp, then sauced with more of that good beurre blanc, this time studded with capers.
If you want something lighter, try another take on spaghetti squash, this time used in a salad with julienne pear and quince. They were tossed in a vinaigrette and arranged in a leaf of radicchio, with pomegranate seeds adding both color and tart bursts of flavor.
With such good food - including excellent bread - you probably won't have much room for dessert. That's good, because Bulle Rock's dessert choices don't quite live up to the rest of the meal. According to our waitress, they aren't made in-house, and maybe that's the reason. There is one exception: a seductive apple Bavarian torte with a creamy cheese filling. Bulle Rock serves it warm with rum-raisin ice cream.
The staff was as attentive as we could possibly have wanted. Oddly, the worst thing I can find to say about the service is that our waitress wore knock-'em-dead perfume, which drowned out the fragrance of the food when she was nearby.
RESTAURANT AT BULLE ROCK
Food: ***| Service: ***| Atmosphere: **1/2| Where: 320 Blenheim Lane, Havre de Grace
Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner, Sunday brunch
Prices: Appetizers: $7-$9; main courses: $18-$27; major credit cards
Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *