Here's a recap by Mark and Gail Barnett of the best restaurants they have reviewed during the past few months.
Hagan's Four Courts
2 Rockville Metro Place
The theme is Irish, the food generally good, the prices a little steep but not out of sight. This is a gorgeous restaurant, with an inviting pub and elegant dining rooms (try for the cozy alcoves). Appetizer highlights: the baked wild mushrooms and the lightly creamed, incisively flavored soups. Best entrees: the shrimp dijon in a brandy-mustard sauce, the grilled salmon and the Four Courts chicken, topped with mozzarella and fresh tomato relish. Some wonderful desserts: the chocolate mousse with Bailey's Irish Cream and the nicely spicy apple pie.
12300 Wilkens Ave.
An excellent if somewhat pricey Spanish restaurant in plain-Jane surroundings. For starters, have the outstanding mussels or fried calamari. Don't bypass the soups: an excellent gazpacho and an even better fish soup, crammed with an assortment of seafood. The paella is flawless and generously portioned, the langostinos are impeccably fresh and irresistibly sauced, and the veal -- especially the ternera sevillana -- is top-notch. The zarzuela and pollo al ajillo, though, are too stingy in size, and the trout is ho-hum. For dessert, have the natilla or the pear poached in wine.
14550 Baltimore Ave.
Like the Silver Diner in Rockville, this is a re-creation of a 1950s classic, but with better food than most of the original diners. Night owls, note that it's open till the wee hours. Highlights are the broiled or country-fried chicken, immensely portioned and nicely cooked; the hot turkey platter, with excellent meat, gravy, stuffing and mashed potatoes; the sirloin sandwich, with good grilled onions; and the fluffy omelettes. The best dessert is the walnut brownie fudge pie, but the banana cream pie is a close runner-up.
808 Hungerford Dr.
An uncommon Chinese restaurant where you can try unusual dishes from a separate menu (in chinese, but patiently interpreted by the owner). Even the standard dishes, such as moo shi pork and crispy noodles, are much better than average, and the prices are rock-bottom. Appetizer highlights include Szechuan pickled salad, Szechuan dumplings, pork and scallion crepes and Szechuan noodles. Among the best entrees are the jumbo pork ball, a terrific version of meatloaf; Cantonese roast duck, one of the best duck dishes you'll find (and at a bargain price during the week); and the steamed whole fish.
1300 Rockville Pike
How can you go wrong in this place? They serve first-class hamburgers on excellent house-baked rolls, outstanding fries, old-fashioned malts and shakes crammed with ice cream, impressive steak and grilled chicken sandwiches, decent chili and slaw -- and all at a very reasonable price. A few items to avoid: the greasy wurst sandwich, the characterless baked beans and potato salad. And the desserts are nothing much.
1801 Rockville Pike
A trendy, noisy, classy-looking place where the crowds flock for a very good Italian meal at a moderate price. Pastas tend to be confusingly flavored, so go for simplicity -- like the excellent penne Bolognese, or the house-made ravioli. The pizza is good, if somewhat soggy-crusted, and the shrimp and mussels, available as appetizers or entrees, have been outstanding. Go for the grilled herbed chicken, but sidestep the duck sausage lasagna and the Italian sausage. Desserts are excellent, from the banana cream pie to the fruit tarts to the tiramisu.
The Vegetable Garden
White Flint Mall
Attention vegetarians: here's the first meatless, fish-less Chinese restaurant in the area. Not everything succeeds here, but there are enough unusual and excellent items to make even carnivores happy. Good bets: the light, beautifully fried vegetable tempura, the lovely white jade rolls, the rainbow crown (a vegetarian version of the ubiquitous seafood nest), the mock chicken with five-spice flavor, or any of the soups. Steer clear of the mushy mock beef and the over-sweet pineapple lotus root, and be sure to avoid dishes made with the monotonous, flat-tasting brown sauce.
15209 Frederick Rd.
An outstanding find: authentic Italian cooking, some of it terrific, in a tiny, ordinary-looking storefront, and at bargain prices. Soup specials (especially straciatella) and pastas (especially stuffed shells, ravioli and anything with cream sauce) have been highlights. Excellent pizza on Tuesdays and Thursdays, simple but admirable crostini (a house specialty), salads and antipasto any time. Roast chicken and meatballs are decent, Italian sausage sub-par. Desserts can be marvelous, including "chocolate salami" and an occasional chocolate mousse cake.