Good tidings for the Eastern Shore: Chef returns to open Bartlett Pear Inn
** (out of four stars; Good)
Sound check: 68 decibels/Conversation is easy.
He's only 30, but Jordan Lloyd has already rubbed shoulders with some of the country's most respected chefs in some of the best-known kitchens.
After he lied at the age of 12 to get a dishwashing job at an Italian restaurant in his home town of Easton, Md., Lloyd went on to work as a line cook for Michel Richard at Citronelle in Washington and Thomas Keller at Per Se in New York, and as a chef de cuisine for Christian Delouvrier at La Goulue in Bal Harbour, Fla. Lloyd's restaurant gigs have also taken him to Hilton Head, S.C., and Atlanta. On occasion, he has even put down his knife to be a server. (His broad smile and infectious enthusiasm were an asset in the dining room at Bourbon Steak when it opened in Georgetown two winters ago.)
Lloyd's new-old roost is back in Easton, where he and his wife, Alice, run the Bartlett Pear Inn, a property formerly known as the Inn at Easton and much-missed for its three-star Australian cooking. Its closure in 2008 left a continent-size void in the dining scene -- a hole Lloyd hopes to fill. Or, as he puts it, "I'd like to become the premiere restaurant on the Eastern Shore, at the very least."
His grilled baby sepia is a step in that direction. It's an appetizer of tender cuttlefish set on a swirl of loose risotto stained black with the ink of the sepia and moistened with a sauce designed to mimic bouillabaisse. Another indication that Lloyd has the chops to back up his dream involves the Duck Trio: a generous slab of house-made duck pâté punctuated with pistachios, a foie gras mousse sparked with pear relish, and three curls of fatty duck prosciutto.
Lloyd's Caesar salad pays homage to Richard, his former boss: a low sculpture of romaine spears and creamy goat cheese mousse poised on its racy dressing. Hovering on top is a thin "lace" of Parmesan. The salad is elegant and delicious and fits neatly with the 30-seat dining room whose pale violet walls show off the lush artwork of Zemma Mastin White, Alice Lloyd's aunt. Ceramic pears on a mantle and real fruit on the menu (in the form of a thin and flaky pear tart) underscore the inn's name. Long story short: Alice's middle name is Bartlett, and she and her husband think they make a good pair. Ha-ha-ha.
Lloyd's stamp is on more than dishes such as zesty steak tartare, topped with a quail egg, and glossy roasted chicken, sauced at the table. With help from his stepfather, a crabber, Lloyd also built the handsome, granite-topped bar in the lounge off the inn's entrance. And he takes pride in supporting his neighbors, who he says have provided him with everything from "food to furniture." Some of his cheeses and edible garnishes, for instance, originate only a few miles away.
Not all the clever touches succeed. Salmon mounted with truffled potato puree is overcooked, and what looks like a marrow bone on a plate of beef bourguignon turns out to be a hollowed-out piece of potato. It puts up a fight with the knife, however. The winy sauce and the rich meat (beef cheeks) smack of a strong résumé, however. Lobster bisque is overproduced with a sword-size crostini, among other accents. Indeed, one of the simplest dishes is one I enjoyed most during my visits: Pappardelle glazed with truffle butter and tossed with creamy cheese and fleshy mushrooms pleased more than the vegetarian in my posse. And the side dishes -- creamed spinach paved with bread crumbs, french fries cooked in clarified butter and served as if they were a bouquet -- show flourish.
Lloyd can be seen delivering dishes and pouring wine (from a too-short list) for his customers, which makes some of us wonder who's cooking dinner. "I have a really good sous chef" in Paul Nanez, says Lloyd, who met his teammate when both worked at La Goulue. Lloyd thinks his time in the dining room is a good way to show the staff how things are done right. He also likes face time with the people he's feeding. "I think it's nice when the chef drops the food," he explains, using insider slang for delivering orders.
Your visit can end with dessert and pear-infused madeleines or, better yet, a breakfast of warm pastries and house-made granola, which are part of the pleasure of staying overnight, upstairs, in one of seven cozy pear-themed chambers. The coffee is French press and your server is likely to be ... does Lloyd ever rest? Reaching for stars keeps a guy busy.
* * *
Top table: Romantics should request Table 7, tucked into an alcove and offering a view of the inn's outdoor fountain.
Open: Dinner daily except Tuesday 5:30 to 10 p.m. Major credit cards. Free parking lot.
Prices: Appetizers $11 to $18, entrees $21 to $34.