True to Its Name
With Its Natural Ingredients and Fresh Flavors, True Matches Its Moniker
This location is closed
Among the Fells Point casualties of Tropical Storm Isabel was Hamilton’s, the restaurant operating, somewhat obscurely, in the stone-walled, below-ground dining rooms at the Admiral Fell Inn. Just recently, the hotel unveiled its new restaurant, True (,  522-2195), and it’s a winner.
I was skeptical going in. I mean, come on, that name—True, as in true, organic, natural, regional, fresh ingredients—it’s so “keeping it real,” pretentious, right? But more than that, I’ve been wary about the exploitation of the organic- and regional-food movement and the glibness with which some restaurants throw around those labels. I have to say, though, that True appears to be deadly earnest about its commitment to organic foods—the menu is scrupulous about noting which items are and aren’t organic and, as is now customary, provides a listing in the back of local and regional vendors (Atwater Breads, South Mountain Creamery, Lancaster Farms). But it comes down to good faith. I have to choose to believe that True is bringing to my table food composed of the ingredients it says it is.
But if the Amish roasted chicken ($19) I had wasn’t a quality piece of poultry, I’m a monkey’s uncle. Conventional chicken doesn’t hold its flavor like this, even when it’s been treated this well, infused with butter, garlic, salt, its crispy skin flecked with black peppercorns. The breast was de-boned before plating and accompanied by kalamata olives, capers, and plum tomatoes and creamy, buttery smashed Yukon gold potatoes.
That’s the other thing about True’s name—it conjures up images of miso soup and chai. But this place is big on butter and cream, and you better think twice about the Maine lobster bisque ($8), because it’s ridiculously rich (a compliment). And after what seems like a quart’s worth of this smooth, well-tempered, sage-seasoned soup you might recall with concern that you still have an entree to deal with.
A smarter starter would be the London broil roulades ($7), billed as a 100 percent organic dish, which rolls roasted peppers, green onions, and raw-milk cheddar into four separate strips of tender steak, set off by a black sesame seed-flecked ginger sauce. This artfully arranged appetizer got a few “aah”s when it came to the table. So did the pumpkin ravioli ($8), but this was the evening’s only dud—even graced by black-truffle shavings and an exemplary velouté (a roux made with chicken stock), the ravioli themselves offered up no pleasant flavor. Maybe the pumpkin was too real—would some cinnamon have helped?
But no complaints about the salads. A Grand Marnier vinaigrette, crispy strips of red beets, and artichoke hearts elevated a microgreen salad ($5) way above the norm, and a creamy Caesar dressing and homemade hickory-smoked croutons made worthwhile every bite of a hearts of romaine salad ($7).
More praise for our other entrées. The highly recommended seafood ragoût ($25) featured pesto risotto circled by gi-normous, evenly cooked shrimp and scallops, was topped with a lobster tail, and came underpinned by a chunky fennel and tomato broth. The tournedos forestiere ($32), meanwhile, delivered supertender beef fillets, served with a heaping, barely seasoned, mélange of woodsy mushrooms. The chef running the kitchen (he stopped by our table, too) should be proud of his skills—even the best beef and seafood depend on solid technique.
When I visited True several tables were occupied by hotel guests dining singly or in pairs, so our (excellent) server was mildly stunned that we had wandered in from outside. But with its low ceilings, roughhewn stone walls, and enormous hand-woven carpet, the dining room here typifies private-inn formality. Although some vaguely perceived institutional trimmings—the chairs, the bad music—keep the room from being throbbingly beautiful, or deeply romantic, I’d still send someone here for a special occasion.
Two final thoughts: Our table was visited repeatedly (it felt like continuously) throughout our meal by True staffers, including a costumed character named “Livingston,” who claimed to be one of the inn’s ghosts. I think the otherwise charming staff will want to rein in its enthusiasm a bit and let the good food speak for itself. And, lastly, again with that absurd presentation chest of Bigelow tea bags—no, no, go find some good loose organic tea.