- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2003

We escape the crowds after a day of shopping and sightseeing in St. Michaels, Md., by taking the Oxford-Bellevue ferry across the Tred Avon River to the charming town of Oxford.

Friends have been talking about a restaurant called Mathilda’s, so we thought we’d give it a try.

The intimate bistro of chef and general manager Jorge Alvarez is home to some very fine gourmet dishes. A somewhat limited menu changes every two weeks, so the options are always new and interesting.

The highlight, other than the food, is Mr. Alvarez himself, described to first-time patrons as “the singing chef.” Our table of five was amused, surprised and impressed at the same time. The chef mingled with his patrons, worked in the kitchen and moments later, belted out opera in the middle of the dining room (and he’s very good).

Actually, the entire staff was a treasure. Our waiter was full of helpful advice on the menu, attentive and just pleasant to have around.

As for food, start your evening with the plato del campo ($10 for a large portion). Roasted red pepper; Spanish chorizo; duck confit and liver in a pastry purse; sun-dried tomato pesto, and anchovy-wrapped capers are served with slices of toasted French bread. It’s an unusual combination, and we expected it to be rich, but we were pleasantly surprised at how light everything tasted. Now, obviously, chorizo and goose liver are not light, but they were not heavy and filling like many similar appetizers. And everything was bursting with flavor.

Fig lovers should try the fig en chevre ($6), baked figs filled with goat cheese and tarragon. Tasty.

If you’re looking for a different kind of salad, there is a delightful option of shaved fennel, red onion, oranges and chives tossed with olive oil ($4) — especially nice on a hot summer evening. Or how about a Mediterranean bread salad ($4), which also features fennel and onions.

At first glance, the entrees on the menu may make you envision richer French cuisine. While the portions were generous, again, none of the food was heavy.

A piping-hot roll was brought to each of us just before the main courses arrived. With the roll was a wonderful fresh parsley and shallot whipped butter.

Scallops and prawns ($22) were served with ham risotto and a garlic custard. These were the largest, freshest scallops I’ve eaten this summer and were prepared neatly. The slightly salty risotto blended well with the flavors of the seafood, and the custard provided a lighter finish than a traditional cream sauce.

Dijon-crusted lamb chops ($25) were served with potatoes in a rich lamb glace. Four medium rare chops were as tender and juicy as you can imagine. Again, the sauce was bursting with flavor, but not heavy or detracting from the taste of the meat.

Alaskan sockeye salmon ($23) was accented with lump crab and a fig couscous with braised fennel. The lump crab was sweet and wonderful, and the salmon prepared to perfection. The Israeli couscous was unlike any we’ve had before and was a pleasant surprise both in flavor and texture. We asked for a petite portion but found this was one of only a few entrees that cannot be cut down.

The pave du turbot en coquilles ($23), layers of flaky white fish, scallops and sweet ham on sauteed spinach with a lemon buerre blanc, was very nice. The dish was served with green beans and baby carrots.

The fish and ham were good, but the most memorable part was the butter sauce — very light and more like a broth — flavorful but not greasy.

Duck served with orange-ginger sauce ($22) over almond rice and braised bok choy, was our only disappointment. The breast was overcooked and dry.

Mainstays on the menu are the Dover sole meuniere in a brown butter, lemon and caper sauce; and a seared filet of beef served with roasted garlic whipped potatoes, glace of veal and baby vegetables with bernaise sauce.

Other main plates include a veal chop served with eggplant and Lyonnaise potatoes with a sun-dried tomato cream sauce; and riz de veau aux champignons, sweetbreads with chanterelle mushrooms over a rich white bean ragout.

The wine list was impressive. We had a bottle of Montevina Pinot Grigio, 2002 ($20). Crisp, but not quite as abrupt and acidic as some of the grigios available this summer.

Desserts also change regularly. There were three choices, and each was a winner.

If you’re in the mood for something rich and decadent, the melting chocolate souffle ($6) is your best bet. The center is warm and gooey and, oh, so chocolaty. Pure heaven.

Lemon napoleon ($6) was a tangy treat of luscious lemon curd with crispy pastry layers. It was a nice change from the usual lemon desserts most restaurants serve. A raspberry and orange mousse was wonderful — full of flavor but not overly sweet. A lovely ending.

There are several dessert wines and cordials on the menu, and the chef personally recommended one that was a perfect end for a nondessert diner.

Mathilda’s is a great find. The only frustration is that Talbot County is so far off the beaten path that I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back again. Maybe on a return trip from Ocean City in the fall.

RESTAURANT: Mathilda’s, 103 Mill St., Oxford, Md.; 410/226-0056; www.mathildasrestaurant.com

HOURS: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sundays

PRICES: Soups and salads $4 to $6; appetizers $6 to $10; entrees $19 to $25; desserts $6; wines by the glass $5 to $9, by the bottle $20 to $60; dessert wines $5 to $12


CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: On-site

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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