Baron's Sheraton Premier 8661 Leesburg Pike Tysons Corner 448-1790 Hours: Dinner, 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Prices: Appetizers $5.95 to $7.95, entrees $14.50 to $23.95. Cards: All major credit cards. Nonsmoking section available.
In a trend that shows no signs of abating, plush dining rooms and ambitious menus continue to blossom in new, Northern Virginia hotels.
One of the newest contestants vying for the fine-dining dollar is Baron's, named after the mid-19th century Baron of Cameron -- a descendant of Lord Fairfax -- whose home, Ash Grove, still stands within sight of the hotel's 23-story smoked-glass tower.
Inside the high-ceilinged dining room, the decor is a study in contrasts -- modern and classical, dark and light, dramatic and restful. Ornately carved, black Oriental screens, dark wood buffets and sideboards, and a grand piano used for nightly entertainment stand out against a background of muted natural colors, expansive windows, and majestic, cream-colored columns.
Indeed, the elegant and soothing decor has you primed for food that is equally engaging, but too often the results don't meet expectations or justify the prices. The featured nightly specials are at the $22 to $24 level, and an appetizer of Beluga caviar with vodka goes for $45.
There are good appetizer and entree choices that are not as pricey, however. For example, I would recommend the pair of robustly seasoned beef and lamb sausages, the least expensive at $5.95. But I would quibble with the decision to accompany the full-flavored meat with an overly delicate angel-hair pasta sprinkled with baby vegetables rather than, say, with a more complementary fruit compote or sweet/sour vegetable relish.
A premium is placed on pretty presentations and trendy ingredients, but the results are not always completely successful. The escargots are packaged attractively in a tarragon-flecked crepe gathered like a pouch and draped with cheese. But, while the basil cream sauce inside the tomato coulis outside is delectable, the escargots tasted musky.
A pleasant dill sauce for the gravlax was cleverly served in a hollowed-out cucumber, but it was hard to get at gracefully without demolishing the container.
A mixed seafood appetizer produced mixed results -- good, briny belon oysters, acceptable New Zealand mussels, but tough bay scallops.
A special stone crab bisque was aggreeably rich and sweet. The clear onion soup, however, was not only weak, but also suffered from an overdose of imagination, the broth coming in a large onion shell sealed by a nearly impenetrable sheet of cheese.
As for entrees, finding a winner here is chancy. On the one hand, I enjoyed a succulent roast duckling with a full-bodied, sweet sauce for $18.95. On the other hand, a roasted pork tenderloin was only so-so with the sauce marred by acrid green peppercorns. A better choice is the thick loin of veal, flavorful and nicely pink, although the oysters and mushrooms on top added little.
A special of dover sole stuffed with a flavorful lobster mousse was a hit, but a special of grilled grouper was bland and overdone.
Other dishes missed scoring a bull's-eye for various reasons. The two filets for the steak Diane lacked flavor, although the flamed brandy/peppercorn sauce with mushrooms was delicious. Both the sea scallops and a Norwegian salmon special were unevenly cooked.
I was told that in an upcoming menu adjustment the dessert tray of French pastries will be dropped in favor of cakes, pies, cheeses, and fresh and marinated fruits. It is just as well. Except for a nicely flaky pastry with cream fillings of mocha and Grand Marnier, the others tasted stale. A lemony creme caramel, however, was refreshing.
After eight months of operation, the service staff still has some kinks to work out. On one visit in particular, it was never clear who our waiter was -- serving responsibilities were passed like a hot potato -- leaving us like stranded motorists trying to flag down passers-by.
After dinner, each woman is presented with a red rose and a Belgian chocolate truffle -- a gracious gesture that seems to fit the surroundings. But if Baron's is to rise to the peak of high-quality dining, as one waiter expressed their ambition, they need to concentrate on more than ambiance and artistry.