Inconsistency can be a downer in love and in food.
But while a fickle sweetheart can still be attractive despite (or perhaps because of) his unpredictability, the same behavior is less charming in a restaurant. With each culinary date, a diner wants to know that she is the object of the restaurant’s focus. She wants to be wooed with thoughtful, well-prepared meals. She wants her host to treat her as a welcome guest. Bobby’s Restaurant and Bar is a big, handsome space with a terrific view and some admittedly fine dishes, but with just enough glitches in service and food to encourage one to proceed cautiously in this relationship.
There’s no doubt that the newly renovated space is striking. Part of the Clearview at Horn’s Point golf club, Bobby’s two dining rooms—one dark and moody with a black ceiling, leather chairs, and contemporary square-shaped lamps, the other all brightness and light—are joined by a bar with five (five!) televisions. Each area looks out onto an outside dining deck and beyond that the wide, lovely expanse of the Choptank River. But just because a table is by the window doesn’t mean it’s a good table, especially if it’s in between a door to the outdoors and a busy side of the bar where waitstaff collect their drink orders. When, after being shown to said table, I asked if we might sit somewhere else, the hostess simply looked at us, silently considered while we waited awkwardly, and finally led us over to a table near a bamboo screen (which turned out to hide the men’s room) in the darker large dining room, all without saying a word. A diner shouldn’t be made to feel that asking for a different table in such a large (and not busy) restaurant is an inconvenience. Nor should she be made to wait fifteen minutes for her drink order when the dining room is far from full. A restaurant should not play hard to get.
The evening picked up with the arrival of drinks (Horton Viognier is a welcome choice from the compact wine list) and two deliciously simple appetizers. But first, a little backstory: Bobby Jones, one of seven partners at Clearview and the “Bobby” of Bobby’s, always wanted a restaurant, having been in the restaurant business since he was fourteen. When his dream became reality, he called his friend chef Paul Shiley, with whom Jones worked at The Narrows. Shiley, also a partner, must have brought the cream of crab soup recipe with him from The Narrows, because it, like theirs, is all that cream of crab should be: simple, based on cream (and not flour), rich (but not unctuous), and full of lump crab pieces bigger than my thumb. And the cruet of sherry served alongside the bowl is a thoughtful touch.
Other appetizers—such as crab gazpacho, fried green tomatoes (with lump crab meat!), and the starter-that-sounds-like-a-meal, imperial-stuffed jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon and served with fresh corn fritters—beckoned, but a chopped salad of pastrami-spice encrusted smoked salmon served over creamy dill won the rose. The dill gave a crisp freshness to the tart dressing, and if the pastrami spice seemed superfluous, it didn’t take away from the delicacy of the salmon.
Entrees at Bobby’s come with a choice of Caesar or house salad, a welcome addition, especially when most entrée prices are in the mid- to high-twenties. I only wish more care had been give to the salads at our table: The Caesar arrived with little to no dressing, while the greens in the house salad were limp with too much vinaigrette.
The entrees themselves were both good and could-be-better. The innovative pairing of juicy barbequed quail and skewered beef tenderloin exceeded expectations, especially when the meat arrived at the table medium-rare as requested. It takes a careful hand to tend to small portions of meat like kabobs. And the spicy peach barbeque sauce and tangy Asian slaw pulled the whole dish together in a delightfully spicy way. The more straightforward of the entrees—a duo of crabcake and fried oysters—wasn’t as successful. The crab cake was moist verging on wet in the middle, a result of too much mayonnaise, perhaps. And local Virginia oysters were plump but tasteless. It’s great that local oysters are available, but there’s no point in serving them if their flavor is waning.
Desserts reignited the flirtation that began with appetizers when our server uttered the magic words “chocolate bread pudding,” followed by “house-made raspberry sorbet.” Propriety lost out and dessert lust won, and, at the end of the encounter, I was glad to have given in. The bread pudding was deliciously damp with chocolate—no dry, chewy bread cubes here—and the sorbet reflected an intensity of raspberry fruit cut with just a bit of citrus to avoid being cloying. Unfortunately, weak coffee nearly doused the flames of desire.
Bobby Jones still fields phone calls to confirm that Bobby’s is a public, not private, restaurant and points out that only twenty percent of customers are club members. Still, the relaxed dress code and discussions of golf scores remind diners that the restaurant is part of a larger operation. (As does the inappropriately early set-up for the next day’s brunch; diners lingering over dinner at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night should not have to compete with that noise and distraction.)
An evening at Bobby’s raises the usual first date questions. Is there more beyond a pretty face? Should there be a goodnight kiss? Another date? I’ll powder my nose and think about it.
Mary K. Zajac writes from Baltimore.