The family had languished through another intermunably hot Sunday and the only thing we could agree on in choosing a place to eat supper was that it have the air conditioning going full tilt. Somebody felt like having seafood, another wanted beef and our younger daughter needed her weekly fried chicken fix. According to the ad in the Yellow Pages, the Golden Bull could meet all these requirements.
We turned into the restaurant parking lot on Dalamar Road in Gaithersburg seconds before a thunderstorm opened up, giving us just a moment to see that we were entering an old brick building, and an unusually long one at that. No wonder. The Golden Bull, now in its third month of operation, is housed in a former bowling alley.
(Fair-goers might like to know that the Golden Bull is on the edge of the grounds where the annual Montgomery County Fair will be held Aug. 22-27.)
The interior has been carved up and transformed into "Spanish-style" dining rooms and a bar complete with fancy iron grillwork, carpeting, red walls with machine-cut wooden reliefs and big chandeliers like the ones Burt Lancaster used to swing on in his swashbuckling days.
Patsy, our waitress, introduced herself and brought drinks and menus. Most of the dinners were in the $6 or $7 range but some, like the filet-mignon-and-two-lobster-tails combination, went as high as $1395, not in our budget but still a fair price in today's market. Children's platters were all $3.75.
We have learned to find out what comes with dinner so we don't order too much. In this case, there were lots of extras like cheese and crackers - very good - hot Italian bread and large salads with a choice of dressing.
We also peered around at other tables, and judging from the size of the portions we saw, we decided against appetizers which included soup, shrimp or crab cocktail or escargot.
My husband treated himself to the prime ribs, $8,50, which were so huge that they hung over the edge of the plate. We presumed that the extra cut for $9.95 must be a steer that simply ambles out from the kitchen. Anyway, the ribs were cooked as ordered and my husband was a happy man.
Our oldest daughter, 10, is discovering, unfortunately, that the best things in life aren't always on the children's menu. She ordered veal escalopine with mushroom sauce, $7.75, and loved it. I thought that sauce was bland and too thick, but the veal was tender and the accompanying rice pilaf was fine.
The chicken junkie in the family surprised us by ordering the children's fried chrimp. Only three shrimp (and an obscenely large baked potato) arrived, but they were cooked nicely in a delicate batter and big enough that our daughter turned down dessert later on.
I had "filet saute trout meuniere," $6.25. It looked lively and when Patsy brought it, I instantly took up her offer to remove the head. The fish itself was good, but I had to peel off the batter, which had a strong egg flavor and other mysterious things in it.
From that experience and from tasting the veal dish, I would say a rule of thumb at the Golden Bull would be to stick with the simple, more ordinary items on the menu and you will leave the place fully satisfied.
Throughout dinner, the lights were flickering on and off as the storm carried on outside, and the kids prayed for a blackout. Meanwhile, my husband and I killed time over coffee while Patsy told us about the Golden Bull.
We learned that you can go into the bar from 8 to midnight Monday through Friday to listen to two guitarists play, and that the old offices upstairs are being converted to banquet facilities. And if you live in Prince George's County, you have your own Golden Bull at 9107 Riggs Rd. in Adelphi.
The bill for our group came to $31.88.