Austere Setting Does Nothing For Chefs’ Adventuresome Menu
Christopher Daniel moved last year into the spot held most recently by Courtney’s Café, which itself has relocated to bigger digs in Cockeysville. The restaurant’s name comes from Christopher Ellis, former chef of Au Poitin Stil, and Daniel Chaustit, of Linwoods. Something approaching a unified vision does manage to come through: Ellis and Chaustit are not here to reinvent cuisine, but even in Timonium people want to sit at a nice table and eat quality food presented with consideration and finesse.
I showed up without reservations at Christopher Daniel at 7 on a late-summer Friday night. Mistake, because the dining rooms were booked until 8:30. The place is a hit. We decided to wait it out, over drinks and appetizers, in the adjacent space, which has been given the upscale name of Five, but is really just a loud and smoky strip-mall cocktail lounge. A separate and moderately priced bar menu with sandwiches and salads is available over here, as is Christopher Daniel’s full dinner menu. We ordered from it.
The three appetizers we tried all presented well but each fell short of impressing the taste buds. My summer-long search for a worthwhile caprese appetizer continues—Christopher Daniel’s ($8) came close but was ultimately a matter of form over content. Red and yellow tomatoes are layered high with soft, fresh mozzarella, and, in an innovation, vidalia onions. The onions added more interest than complementary summer flavor, and the tomatoes, which in August should be perfectly ripe, were not.
I liked the looks of a portobello carpaccio ($8), in which finely chopped mushrooms (although “carpaccio” implies paper-thin slicing more than chopping) were broadcast completely over a square white plate and topped with a disc of gently fried goat cheese. It all gave up less intense flavor than it promised, wanting maybe a punch of pepper, a squirt of sherry, perhaps even a more freshly considered alternative to the familiar portobello. Christopher Daniel’s take on the rare tuna appetizer ($10) layers the fish on crisp but bland flatbreads, and its overall affect is just a little wan.
Christopher Daniel’s front dining room, where we ordered and enjoyed our entrées, is sharp and tidy. Its gray carpeting, faux-painted walls, and tables dressed simply with crisp linens and fresh flowers provide a neutral blank canvas for the meal.
Christopher Daniel takes its steaks seriously, featuring a handful of cuts available in different weights; a six-ounce tenderloin can be paired with a jumbo lump crab cake ($28) or a fried lobster tail ($31). The L.A. Story-style plating of the tenderloin/crab cake combo made us smile sarcastically: Big, big square plate, with the steak placed over here, the crab cake over there, and tons of white space all around and in between.
Christopher Daniel charges extra (not a lot) for sides such as sautéed garlic spinach ($3) and lobster mashed potatoes ($6), but even something as simple as shaved horseradish (à la the Prime Rib) would make the tenderloin/crab cake plate feel more like dinner, less like a cheat. This tenderloin, and a 10-ounce Kobe steak ($25), however, were gorgeous cuts of unadulterated (even by salt) beef, each one cooked precisely and simply. A choice of sauce (such as bourbon, exotic-mushroom reduction, port-wine reduction) arrives in a ramekin alongside each steak (c’mon: be the chefs and sauce the steak). The horseradish sauce is pert and creamy, but a béarnaise sauce is short of wine and vinegar.
I would have liked the Oriental barbecue salmon ($20) a lot more had its sauce been a tad less sweet, but the ample fillet was accountably fresh, if lacking pronounced wild flavor. A generous homemade fettuccine dish with crabmeat ($24) impressed with its gentle seasonings, buttery flavors, and surfeit of snow-white crabmeat, tomatoes, and fresh-cut corn.
The food is solid at Christopher Daniel, but it’s hard to imagine ever having a truly joyful meal here, considering the mirthless ambiance and the sometimes austere presentation. I left with an understanding of the chefs’ culinary inclinations but not of their personalities—something you expect from a restaurant named after themselves.