Clyde's goes back to nature gloriously at Tower Oaks
Nov. 21, 2002
M.J. Pleasure

Susan Whitney/The Gazette

Walter DaCosta Roberta serves (from left) balsamic glazed salmon, roasted half chicken and an oyster sampler and a seared tuna "martini' in the Great Room at Clyde's Tower Oaks Lodge.

A lot of care has been lavished on the newest Clyde's in Rockville, inside and out. Tower Oaks Lodge, a re-creation of an Adirondack lodge set in a 21-acre nature preserve just off I-270, opened early last month.

It is obviously the destination of choice early one recent weekend evening. Parked cars are bumper to bumper the length of Preserve Road between Wootton Parkway and Tower Oaks Boulevard. The valet lot at the strikingly lit, lodge pole entry is full. We shoehorn the car up an access ramp onto the grass like many others and trek to the entrance. It's a beautiful night to admire the landscaping.

Surprisingly, the reception area is not crowded. We are shown to our table in the Great Room at precisely the hour of our reservations. The hostess promises to direct the rest of the party when they arrive.

"The joint is jumpin,'" as Fats Waller said. A couple hundred members of a Washington area singles group are converging on the main bar with its duck hunting theme and the garden bar which doubles as an oyster bar.

All is serene inside the Great Room, an actual barn moved from Vermont. Picture windows overlook the preserve; stuffed wild game overlook the diners. (A waiter assures some diners that the animals died of natural causes. "Yeah, sure," retorts a skeptic.) Birch bark canoes, totem poles and mountain crafts abound. This Clyde's has the largest collection of art, artifacts and antiques of all the chain's themed restaurants. The more formal Hunt Room features equestrian paintings on its cherry paneling, a collection of saddles, a silver chandelier and a restored 18th century fireplace mantel.

After half an hour, we figure our friends are caught in parking limbo and order wine and cheese. Clyde's is one of the few area restaurants to support handcrafted cheese making. The inviting farmhouse cheese plate holds a Vermont colby; shepard, an aged sheep cheese from the same state; a Georgia aged goat and a California cow's milk blue cheese. Slivers of apple, raisin pecan bread, grapes and guava paste complete the picture.

Thus soothed, I reconnoiter and bump into my friend who arrived 10 minutes after we did and was seated in another room, waiting for us. United, 40 minutes late, we begin dinner.

Fish and seafood get the respect they deserve at Clyde's. The menu mixes favorites like plump and plentiful mussels in a garlicky, onion-studded broth with stylish new presentations such as the delicious seared tuna "martini."

Steamed Maine lobsters (single or double) are luscious. Pan-seared swordfish is perfect, whisked from the heat at the right moment and complemented by a full-flavored Provençal sauce of fresh tomatoes, black olive paste and herbs. Bouillabaisse, its saffron broth brimming with scallops, rockfish, lobster and shrimp (a bit overcooked), makes a tasty dish.

The meatier side of dining is not neglected. Appealing pepper spiced pork chops are paired with a terrific savory ham and cheese bread pudding and apple pear chutney. Lamb shanks are a welcome special (tasty though fatty, the nature of the beast), complete with roasted root vegetables and yummy garlic mashed potatoes.

It is hard to decide which is better in the duo of chocolate desserts -- the intensely flavored, dark flourless cake or the creamy mocha custard with chocolate bits on the bottom. A seasonal treat, pumpkin cheesecake, beats the heck out of pumpkin pie or ordinary cheesecake, and a warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream and bourbon-caramel sauce is pure comfort food. In contrast to these, the pear almond tart in puff pastry seems dull.

Clyde's has built a reputation on reliability and a commitment to using the freshest local products. Executive chef Michelle Giroux, from 1789, the group's flagship, certainly will keep the kitchen on its toes.

The manager, too, is alert. At the end of dinner, when told about the seating mishap, he makes amends by offering dessert on the house -- a fair trade for our inconvenience.

Clyde's Tower

Oaks Lodge

2 Preserve Parkway, Rockville

Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2:30 a.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-1:30 a.m.

Entrée prices: $6.95-$22.95

Credit cards: All major cards

Reservations, carry out:

301-294-0200 (8 or less),

fax 301-294-3089

Accessible, smoking in one of the bars