Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine’s Day Super Special in the Old Court Café

Yesterday - Valentine’s Day - patrons of Northwest Hospital’s Old Court Café had the opportunity to purchase a “Super Special” – a deluxe meal consisting of a rib eye steak, three steamed shrimp, a twice-baked potato, a side of steamed broccoli, a chocolate covered strawberry and a fountain drink. Since this was Valentine’s Day, buyers of the special also received one red rose. All this was not a bad deal for $11.99.

My husband John was handling our dinner plans, so I invited him to join me for lunch to take advantage of the Super Special. Though it’s unconventional to start a Valentine’s meal by picking up a tray and walking through a cafeteria line, we were up for an adventure.

The Old Court Café is unaware that I’d be writing this review, and I’m happy to report that John – a former saute chef – had many nice things to say about the food. (I can’t say the same about his assessment of many of Baltimore’s fine dining establishments.) Likewise, I found the food delightful overall. Nothing tasted unpleasant or “off.”

The rib eye – which was partially pre-cooked and then heated in a saute pan to the customer’s desired doneness – was seasoned with spices that reminded John of chimichurri. For a complete meal price of under $12, one cannot realistically expect the best cut of prime rib, but given the quality of the meat, the chef prepared it in a way that was most enjoyable. A-1 steak sauce was provided as an optional condiment, but it was unnecessary and would have overpowered the delicious seasonings.

“The shrimp are good,” said my husband, who usually complains about his fish being over-cooked. My shrimp were slightly more done than his, but they were still tasty with just the tiniest hint of Old Bay. “They should make a sub sandwich with the steak and the shrimp on top of it,” fantasized John.

Despite being lukewarm by the time I ate it (a problem endemic to steamed vegetables), the broccoli was perfectly firm – not at all mushy as one would expect. It was an appetizing color, fresh tasting and didn’t require any additional seasoning. If only all leafy green veggies could taste that way!

The twice-baked potato was not entirely unlike the ones that can be purchased in a grocer’s frozen foods section; indeed the freezer was its likely origin. It was not bad by any means, but it was clearly our least favorite part of the meal. “The potato needs butter,” John suggested. “If they had just melted some butter and poured it over the top, it would be so much better,” he said.

“If they had, our cardiologists would thank them,” I said.

“True. I guess we are in a hospital.”

It was easy to forget that fact.

Take the chocolate strawberry, for instance. It was quite unlike any chocolate strawberry I’d eaten before. My husband concluded that it was the same chocolate used for Berger cookies, but I thought it tasted much, much better. It was pure genius that it had a dark chocolate coating that was just soft enough that when the strawberry was bitten, the chocolate didn’t crack and fall of the fruit and just hard enough that it clung well to the strawberry and didn’t leave a residue on the plate.

“Yum,” John spontaneously uttered at least two or three times during our meal. His biggest complaint was that the café’s standard black Styrofoam plate was too small for all the food. “The roses are a nice touch,” he said, handing his to me. Small plate or not, we both had devoured all of our food.

-Holly Hosler

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