- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

Mary Mason's gourmet shop in historic Easton, Md., has expanded into the adjoining grand Victorian that was her family's ancestral home. Creative salads and sandwiches are offered at lunch, and Mediterranean dinners accented with Chesapeake ingredients star at night.
The business was established in 1966 by Mrs. Mason as a shop for gourmet foods, chocolates, coffees and imported gifts, but she and her son Matthew have operated Mason's restaurant as well as the shop for the past few years.
The restaurant has become a "meeting place for many Washingtonians craving the dishes prepared by executive chef Chad Scott," Mr. Mason says.
We knew our dinner was off to a good start when the bread arrived. A wonderfully soft, yet crusty French bread was joined by a flavored focaccia, both perfectly warmed. Like most fine restaurants, Mason's serves a plate of olive oil rather than butter with the bread, offering a flavorful mixture of herbs and capers.
After much debate, we tried the foie gras ($14) as an appetizer. Perfectly seared in olive oil, it was served with pineapple, litchi nuts and a watermelon granita an Italian ice and a wonderful slice of grilled bread. The richness of the foie gras was tempered nicely by the sweetness of the pineapple and granita. Divine.
Other starters that piqued our interest included a lobster spring roll with sweet-and-sour vegetables and a ginger-rosemary aioli, and a rock-shrimp cake with pickled cucumbers and smoked tomato vinaigrette.
We decided to skip the salads but regretted that decision after seeing the fresh choices at the neighboring table. A baby greens salad features white asparagus, haricots verts, olive toast and truffle vinaigrette. The creamy Caesar salad is accented with candied garlic. An antipasto misto also is offered.
For the main event, I ordered the free-range chicken ($21). Tender, juicy chicken roasted with Smithfield ham is served with fava-bean risotto and lemon Parmigiana froth. The half of a chicken was a delight, perfectly prepared and trimmed, with only one leg bone to deal with. It rested on the wonderful fava-bean risotto, cooked just long enough and not mushy.
My wife opted for the Pacific striped marlin ($25): three generous slices of perfectly rare marlin. Crisp-fried calamari accented with grapefruit-ginger foam topped the salad of black trumpet mushrooms and asparagus. It was one of the best and most innovative dishes we have seen.
Other interesting main dishes included a citrus-poached salmon with smashed lobster potatoes, English peas, carrots and curry emulsion; prosciutto-wrapped veal tournedos with taleggio cheese, crisp salsify and braised greens; and a grilled beef tenderloin with truffled potato puree, roasted carrots and tomato tarragon jus.
My wife considers herself a consummate dessert critic, insisting that the truly great restaurants go the extra mile with everything, including the end of the meal. Mason's delivered on this count, as well.
For the chocolate lover, there is a warm chocolate gateau ($7). Served with a fresh toasted-coconut sorbet and macadamia-nut brittle, it is a rich and flavorful contrast in temperature and texture.
Even more exciting was the praline parfait ($7), served with espresso sauce and citrus. The cold, creamy parfait played nicely with the rich praline and espresso this really was something special. Other tempting choices included Tahitian vanilla creme brulee, lemon-creme-fraiche cheesecake and that wonderful apple dessert, the tarte Tatin.
Mason's offers an extensive wine list, and the chef's recommendations are listed with each entree on the menu.
On a busy Saturday night, Matthew Mason was kind to take me on a brief tour of the establishment. This beautiful Victorian house is one you would dream of calling your own. It has been a home to Masons since 1876. The restaurant at one time was the residence of Matthew Mason's grandfather.
Mustard-colored walls with white trim and French art-deco wall hangings warm the front room. A beautiful wooden staircase leads to the second floor, where the walls are painted a dramatic red with more art-deco hangings. On occasion, small wedding receptions are held on this floor. There's also a side room that would be perfect for a cocktail party.
Downstairs, a wine cellar has a table that can seat four or five guests. Outdoor seating is available in warm-weather months, extending the capacity from 85 to 125 guests.
Easton was established about 1710 and functions as the Talbot County seat. Because of its historical significance, Easton has earned distinction as the "Colonial Capital of the Eastern Shore."
Next time you're on the shore, pay Easton and Mason's a visit. You won't be disappointed.


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