Someone at Two Quail knows how to decorate.A two story townhouse on Capitol Hill has been transformed into a charming three room restaurant with all the trappings of someone's spinster aunt: antique mirrors, lace curtains and a mishmash of collectibles have been put to good use, personalizing the dining rooms and providing a properly homey American setting for the new American menu.
And in true Hill fashion, neighborliness is the order of the day. To encourage frequent visits, for instance, the menu offers a reasonably priced "neighborhood entree" for $6.95. Tables are arranged to permit eavesdropping, and on at least one occasion we were treated to what appeared to be an impromptu guitar performance when a young man pulled up next to our table and entertained us through part of dinner. And in lieu of a coat check, there's the stairway for draping your wraps -- just like at home when the closet's full.
However, the attention to detail that was expended on the parlors appears to be missing from the plates. And no amount of old-fashioned charm can make up for what can be a pretty lackluster meal. There are filling salads interspersed with insipid soups, decent meat selections alternating with fish that is average at best. One of the dining room's main fixtures, the dessert tray, is a fine-looking selection of sweets that can both delight and disappoint.
The handwritten dinner menu, subject to seasonal change, consists of about seven appetizers, of which two in particular -- tortellini primavera, bathed in a mellow cream sauce and flecked with tender-crisp fresh vegetables, and the "Maxfield's Style" salad -- are worth noting. The salad of apple and pear chunks, set against a plate of romaine lettuce, is a fine winter offering and a pleasant change of pace from the usual house salads. Its heartiness is underscored by a creamy blue cheese dressing with chunks of blue cheese.
Other starters, such as a bland, rough-textured pate of duck, veal and orange, were merely ordinary. And the daily soups -- referred to as "whim of the chef" -- were less than whimsical. Of those sampled, there was a fainthearted cream of broccoli soup with barely any taste of the vegetable, and a seafood bisque that held the richness of tap water. Some julienned vegetables and a few tiny shrimp did little to buoy this thin broth.
Main courses have been similarly variable. Stuffings haven't added much to entrees of chicken (stuffed with cornbread) or flounder (stuffed with crab meat) or pork (stuffed with a nearly tasteless mixture of sweet potatoes and walnuts), although the pork itself was a thick, juicy chop, and would have been a fine solo act. Ditto a juicy, meaty entree of duckling that would have been better without its topping of cranberry sauce, which mightily resembled the canned variety. Moreover, an otherwise decent fillet of swordfish was a bit overwhelmed by its pungent mustard sauce, which was better teamed with the less delicate stuffed pork chop. And at $15, the grilled filet mignon was an unimpressive, rather thin cut. To their credit, the entrees are accompanied by fine sides of buttery mixed vegetables subtly touched with garlic.
I've had friendly service and amusing service but rarely very good service at Two Quail. Sometimes the staff has been absent-minded, forgetting to bring bread to the table or overlooking a patron's dessert request. Sometimes service is just plain absent. On one occasion we were served by a woman who said they were so short-staffed that one of the dining rooms had to be closed, leaving two people to watch over a dining room apiece.
On the other hand, there are nice touches, such as the strolling guitar player, that impart warmth on a cold winter night. And desserts can be worth lingering over, particularly if the selection includes a wedge of something chocolate, pumpkin cheesecake, or a piece of tangy key lime pie that would be even better with less sweetening.
If you don't expect much more than pleasant surroundings and relatively moderate prices, Two Quail can fit the bill. A memorable meal is harder to come by.