- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One doesn’t expect to find a French chateau tucked away in suburban Severna Park, Md., a short distance from a congested shopping area. One might be lucky to stumble on Cafe Bretton at all, as this French-European restaurant doesn’t appear to surround itself in the trappings of today’s dining scene. After much surfing, a Web site has yet to be found, and there appears to be little propaganda expounding its virtues.

A nearly full dining room, however, indicates that the kitchen must be doing something right, whether it is the interesting menu, the friendly service or the romantic setting.

The evening’s specials were so tempting that we did not order anything from the old standbys on the printed menu. The wide assortment of specials allows the kitchen more flexibility in offering what is fresh and available daily.

Soup choices included an unusual chicken minestrone and lobster bisque.

For an appetizer, smoked applewood duck breast ($11.95) served with a romaine-and-apple salad was a unique offering. Thinly sliced duck breast had a deep, smoky flavor, and the tanginess of the raspberry vinaigrette balanced the rich duck, with the apples adding just the right touch of sweetness. Almonds added extra crunch.

Another hearty option is grilled venison sausages served with blackberries, port wine and rosemary. A lighter offering is fiocchi, which are purse-shaped pasta filled with pears and ricotta cheese and served with Gorgonzola cream sauce and porcini mushrooms.

For the seafood lover, fried shrimp wrapped in phyllo are served over a red-pepper coulis and wasabi mayonnaise.

A wonderful vegetarian option was beet-and-goat-cheese salad. A generous portion of very smooth and creamy goat cheese complemented the fresh, al dente beets. The beet slices were thick and offered a burst of flavor in each bite. Thankfully, the kitchen knew better than to smother this plate in dressing, so it was possible to savor the pure flavors of the ingredients.

Main plates included a sauteed 2-pound Maine lobster ($37.95), which was tender. The menu said it was served over lobster ravioli with autumn squash sauce, but the dish did not quite match the description. Tender ravioli were stuffed with the tempting and sweet squash, just savory enough to balance the dish but not jolt it. The sauce was rich and creamy but not heavy, with extra flavor from pecorino and Parmesan cheeses.

Sauteed grouper and shrimp ($30.95) with capers, garlic, white wine and lemon juice was a nice-size fillet topped with two jumbo shrimp. This plate would be for the diner who may not favor the heavy, rich sauces often served with a French entree.

Rockfish cartoccio offered a variety of seafood in a rich tomato broth. A large portion of rockfish was cooked to perfection, very flaky and moist, and was enhanced rather than dominated by the tomato broth. The dish also featured plump clams and mussels and tiny, tender scallops.

Beef bourguignon was among the specials; the menu touts a roasted rack of lamb ($32.95) as the house specialty. Our seat location allowed us to witness a variety of beef dishes coming from the kitchen - a 14-ounce New York strip steak looked most impressive.

Desserts are not made in-house but are satisfying. Flavor choices included pistachio, mango, hazelnut and white and dark chocolate. An impressive wine list pays a visit to France but also travels to other vineyards of the world.

RESTAURANT: Cafe Bretton, 849 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd., Severna Park, Md., 410/647-8222

HOURS: 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

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