Thursday, August 28, 2008

King's Contrivance, We Hardly Knew Ye

by Xani

As our regular readers know, EP and I grew up in Columbia, MD, and our folks just recently moved out to the Eastern shore. For all those many years that the BCD family lived in Columbia, the King's Contrivance Restaurant, which has been around since the 70's, sat quietly in the neighborhood of Macgill's Common (oh, Columbia with your CRAZY planned community neighborhoods), minding it's own business, never crossing our minds. Sure, BCD Mom and Dad used to spend New Year's Eve there back when EP and I were babies, and I went to a couple of bat mitzvahs there in the early 90s, and EP sang there once with her high school Madrigals troupe. But, for the past ten years or so, KC has been like that one dress in the back of your closet-- sure, it still fits, but last time you put it on it seemed kind of outdated, or maybe you needed to get it hemmed or whatever, so you just shoved it back in there and forgot about it. For 10 years.

So how WEIRD is it that, just this week, the whole BCD family ended up there for a random Wednesday night dinner? None of us even live in Columbia anymore! But it happened, and you know what? It was a really good dinner-- apparently that old dress is back in style again.

First, many drinks at the bar (makes any outfit look better!). They have an extensive selection of liquor, including BCD Dad's favorite gin (Hendrick's) and my new favorite bourbon (Woodford Reserve). Then, for dinner, we decided to share an array of appetizers, to taste as many of their delicious-sounding offerings as possible. They also offer a pre fixe menu, including appetizer, entree and dessert for a very reasonable $29! Next time....

We ordered SEVEN appetizers, which might sound excessive, but ended up being just right (and left a little room for dessert). They were: Shellfish bisque (lobster, shrimp, and crab meat in a creamy bisque with sherry), House made fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil, eggplant and pine nut fritters (with pomodoro sauce and olive butter), deep-fried softshell crab, seared sashimi-grade tuna with lump crab and avocado salad, duck pate with toast points, and fried oysters. I'm looking at this now and realizing we had an entirely vegetable and fish-based dinner! No meat! Has that ever happened before, ever? Oh wait, is duck a meat?

Anyway, onto the details. All the dishes were tasty, very fresh, and quick out of the kitchen. The soup was many, many steps above the crab bisque I attempted a few weeks ago (it was so thick it was more like crab dip! I was too ashamed to blog about it). This was super-rich, and bursting with seafood and sherry flavor. Lots of big chunks of lobster and crab, and some shrimps too. Does anyone know why the bisque has this dark color?

The pate was very good, more of a rustic style than completely smooth. EP felt it was a little too game-y but I enjoyed it. I wished there had been more cornichon alongside, so cute!

The oysters-- now these were a major hit. Perfectly fried and crunchy, not too wet in the middle, just lots of concentrated oyster taste. We think they were panko-breaded. We'll be trying that technique next time we make our own. Serious oyster season is right around the corner!!

House-made mozzarella: this was one of the best caprese-style salads I've had all summer! Tomatoes are at their peak and the cheese was tender, a little salty, and just damn good. Made me want to make my OWN house-made mozzarella, because that's a normal impulse, right??

Tuna: ok, so this one wasn't a grand slam. The tuna was just ok. Also, I am a big snob and think the seared tuna appetizer is played out. I will say that the lump crab and avocado salad was to die for. BIG lumps of crab, soft, ripe avocado-- what more could you want?

Softshell crab: another little seasonal delight. This was actually one of the best softshell crabs in recent memory. I cut it into quarters for easy sharing, then ate my quarter, then immediately wanted to eat the three other pieces. You know how usually a softshell crab is just like a lot of fried batter (not that this is a bad thing) and shell and not much else? Not this one-- even my meager quarter was bursting with crab meat and the flavor of the crab "mustard." The texture of the shell and batter was highly enjoyable as well. Maybe I haven't had that many softshells this season, but this one was particularly tasty.

Finally, the pine nut and eggplant "fritters." So first of all, it should be called "fritter" because there was only one. And secondly, I think "fritter" is pushing it because this was more like a large, round, fried cake, with eggplant stuffing. But, semantics aside, this was a great dish. The cake was light and crisp, like a beignet-type texture, and the eggplant was intense and almost meaty-tasting. A very substantial vegetarian dish, and again, something I did not want to share!

fritteR, singular

Then we moved onto dessert and coffee, and I just want to say here that I loved our waitress-- she was sweet and friendly and when we said we wanted to share a bunch of appetizers she didn't even blink, and I don't think KC gets a request like that too often (let's just say that 90% of the other patrons were... older. Many requiring walkers. This is not exactly the kind of place that is doing the "small plates" trend-- although they have given in to the elaborate fruit-based martini craze, blech).

Anyway, dessert: I had the strawberry shortcake with a pecan biscuit, EP had the key lime pie with coconut ice cream, and Mom had the Hazelnut Obsession (milk chocolate mousse with a crunchy hazelnut center covered in milk chocolate ganache with an orange grand marnier sauce-- that's a mouthful!)


Key Lime Pie

Hazelnut Obsession

Nothing like a little something sweet and a cup of good coffee to end the evening. All the desserts were good, with EPs taking the cake. Mom's was just waaay too rich for me, and I enjoyed my shortcake until the biscuit got all mushy from sitting in the strawberry sauce. The key lime pie was just tart enough, just sweet enough, and plenty light. And I love coconut anything, so that dessert was the big winner for me.

So just like that, an old place has new life! I hope it's not another 10 years before I return-- I'll kick myself if the next time I'm there it's for one of my friend's kid's bar mitzvahs!



  1. Hmmm. I've never actually heard of this place.

  2. Hey, looks good! My mom had a bad waitress here once in the eighties, and we've been forbidden to have dinner here for the past 20 years. She holds a grudge...don't even get her started on the old Valu Food at the village center.

  3. That place looks awesome! And only about 8 mins from my house!

    Hendricks is my favorite gin too. Make sure to try it with cucumber :)

  4. I think the bisque may be dark because they use a roux with some tomato paste (just a guess - I suppose I could have goggled it)

    I think the tuna thing has gotten way over done (as usual - let's take a good thing and do it until it becomes McDonaldized). I mean there is only so much really good tuna out there.

    Interesting that the clientèle is so old (you mean older than your Dad and I?), because the dishes actually sounded more up to date.


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