It’s always a good sign when a restaurant surprises a diner — surprises in a good way. When the Savory Sam clan recently visited Dan’s Restaurant & Tap House, we encountered surprises, mostly delightful, from beginning to end.
Our report: There were some minor hiccups in our evening, but almost everything, from food to decor to service to beverages, exceeded our expectations.
The pleasant surprises started early. Despite visiting on a weekday night, Dan’s was busy. Nearly all tables were filled in the lower-level dining room. Because we had called ahead, we had a table waiting.
We glanced around the dining room. Classy. Cozy. This was the lower of two rooms at Dan’s, a dining room with mustard-colored walls, wood floors, a copper-colored, pressed-tin-style ceiling and frosted-glass and-wrought-iron light fixtures. The upper room had an exposed-brick wall, a well-stocked bar and more tables. A wide, inside stair connected the two floors.
We opened our menus, and laughed out loud. The text was backlit, so despite the low lighting, we had no problem reading our menu.
The next surprise: Dan’s kitchen buys local ingredients for its contemporary American dishes. The menu mentions that ingredients come from local farms. Excellent. The Savory Sams like supporting local farmers.
Appetizers ranged from buffalo chicken dip for $7 to panko-breaded prawns for $10. “Pub grub” ranged from sweet potato fries for $6 to a pound of chicken wings for $8. Pressed sandwiches included the ham and cheese panini for $6 up to the crab cake for $12 “Boonsburgers” came with a variety of toppings and cost $9 to $12. Entrees ranged from chicken carbonara for $14 to New York strip steak for $20. A small selection of kids’ meals cost $5 each.
We ordered two appetizers — crab dip with toasted baguettes and seared tuna with Asian slaw and wasabi mayo. To accompany the first course, we ordered a pale wheat ale and a pinot grigio.
The drinks and appetizers arrived promptly. Dan’s kitchen pays attention to presentation. On a rectangular plate, the seared tuna slices were piled artfully on a scoop of zesty Asian slaw. Green wasabi-mayo was drizzled on the side, and black sesame seeds were sprinkled over the whole thing. The crab dip came in a large round bowl accompanied by hard-toasted slices of French bread.
The appetizers looked good and tasted generally good. The tuna was terrific, and the slaw crunchy and good, but the wasabi-mayo was too mild for us. Anything flavored with wasabi should have a kick of heat, and this had little more than a hint.
The hot crab dip, also, was well-made but mild — not strongly crabby, not distinctly Old Bay-flavored. It was certainly comfort food, but not zesty.
We speculated the kitchen might be aiming its flavor profiles at middle-of-the-road diners, and we do prefer zestier flavors.
But we also like fresh foods, and our salads were great — organic greens with red pepper, carrots and cucumbers with actual flavor. Good quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil was brought on request, even though it was not on the menu — a nice touch.
The restaurant was pretty chilly. One of us was comfortable in a sports jacket; the other chilly in a short-sleeved sweater and a shawl.
Our main dishes arrived — blackened tuna with spicy mango salsa and a well-done Delmonico steak — along with our second round of drinks.
We ordered a pinot noir and three beers to go with the main course. The Savory Sam beer aficionado was thrilled to find he could order draft beers in 16-ounce glasses or 4-ounce glasses, so he ordered small glasses of a black lager, an imperial IPA and an imperial stout.
Our main courses were moderate in size but high in quality. As diners, we appreciate not being inundated with huge servings. The blackened tuna was a tiny 2-inch-thick steak with peppery char on the outside and velvety pink flesh on the inside. Yum. But the mango salsa with it was disappointing — a teaspoon of chopped mango. Period. We expected something more.
The sides were terrific — delicious, chunky-smashed potatoes with skins, and mixed sauteed vegetables. The veggies were a particularly wonderful surprise. Too many restaurants treat cooked vegetables as an afterthought. These were a triumph — yellow squash, zucchini, red pepper, orange carrot, purple carrot, asparagus tips, beets and green beans, all fresh-cut and lightly sauteed in olive oil. With the veggies was a small patch of zesty sprouts.
The Delmonico was a delight, tender and flavorful, with a bit of pink inside. One of the Savory Sams avoids gluten, so in place of the sauce on the menu, our waiter brought a small pan of perfectly sauteed mushrooms. The steak came with the same sides as the tuna — smashed potatoes, sauteed veggies and a patch of sprouts.
We finished our entrees with room for a dessert. Our server read the list of desserts they offer, which changes regularly. We almost went for the creme brulee-flavored cheesecake, but instead ordered panna cotta and a decaf coffee.
Panna cotta is an Italian, cream-based gelatin. Dan’s kitchen drizzled house-made chocolate sauce over its molded, white panna cotta. The dessert was not overly sweet, which we appreciated, but also mild flavored. We would have preferred more flavor, but, along with the fresh-ground coffee, it was a quiet note to end a delightful meal.
Overall, the Savory Sams had a memorable time at Dan’s Restaurant and Tap House. The food was fresh and well-prepared. The beer selection was wonderful. Our waiter was knowledgeable and attentive. Dan’s does many things well, and our complaints were small. We’ll be back.
Savory Sam is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.