I should have trusted my gut and chosen another restaurant when I looked over the menu JohnnyO brought up to our room at the Green Park Inn. But I liked the idea of having a nice dinner with wine and not worrying about driving so we stayed in and dined at the Laurel Room.
First of all, the dining room you first pass when you walk through the lobby is not the same one you dine in at the Laurel Room. The dining room to the right, when you enter the lobby is what I expected to dine in at a "Grand Dame" hotel. The Laurel Room has been remodeled but it doesn't fit with the rest of the hotel. There are contemporary touches that simply throw the whole vibe off. For such a beautiful hotel, there should have been white table cloths and table settings; not placemats and silverware rolled in napkins like you'd find in a chain eatery. I understand the owners are attempting to make the hotel approachable to everyone but that is done with graciousness and good service. The service was just ok, definitely not "Grand Dame" worthy. By the way: The working man enjoys class and excellent service just as much as the wealthier patrons.
Second, I was shocked to find out after dinner that the chef of The Laurel Room Restaurant is a James Beard Nominee. Seriously? I am a french trained chef turned heirloom & micro vegetable producer and found the food so appalling that I finally left 2 bites into my entree. That said, I am not a food snob but definitely appreciate well prepared, thought out food. Our dinner left much to be desired.
I began with the award winning Watermelon salad. It was plated messily and the flat bread served with it was soggy. It was drenched in so much Balsamic vinegar that the mozzarella was unrecognizable and the lettuce it was bedded on was not properly prepped (it still had the brown stems attached).
Next, was the mixed greens salad. Again, messily plated and way too much balsamic. The lettuce was limp and room temperature. JohnnyO had the Shrimp Cake, which was late coming out because it "didn't turn out." When it did "turn out", it was crispy and brown on the outside and a gooey, wet mess on the inside. The arugula it was plated on was clearly limp and wilted.
On to the entrees: I had the pecan crusted rainbow trout and almondine green beans. Although the fish initially appeared to be well prepared; it was absolutely swimming in what I believe was supposed to be a tarragon-orange butter sauce but in reality, an overly sweet mess that completely overwhelmed both the fish and the pecan. The green beans had a good flavor, but were too oily.
JohnnyO had the oh, so unspectacular espresso crusted tenderloin with chocolate served with vegetable couscous instead of the gratin potatoes simply because JO doesn't do cheese. We were really excited to try this dish. Well, I would have been excited about the gratin but hey, not my dinner... We've had tenderloin prepared similarily to this once before and loved it.
The Laurel Room's Espresso Tenderloin with Chocolate? Notsomuch. It was ordered rare, was served medium rare. The espresso was overpowering instead of accentuating and there were no other flavors to balance the espresso and chocolate out, including salt. Salt would have actually been quite nice, giving it a sweet-saltiness. I read later Chef James' dish was originally prepared with a Bailey's cream sauce. That might have rounded out some of the flavors a bit but as the cream sauce was missing, there's no way to tell.
We completely skipped dessert as we figured it wasn't worth it.
Maybe it was an off night or maybe Executive Chef James is one of those Ex Chefs who doesn't actually do much face time in his kitchen anymore and is relying on poorly trained staff to turn out his dishes.
Overall, my impression before finding out the Chef's name, was that it was an amateur without any real training trying way too hard to be gourmet. Now knowing who's cooking or whose name is attached, I am flabbergasted. What happened? This should have been a foodgasm-worthy meal. This restaurant is just a few short steps from being a really great restaurant in a gorgeous hotel. Start with finding a good manager who will put forth the time and effort to train staff both in the kitchen and out. And for heaven's sake, put some table cloths on the tables! A lady should never show her ankles.