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Three Onions

October 19, 2003

By E.T. MOORE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Set on German Street, between a hip jewelry store and a gallery gift shop, Three Onions, with its clean, earth-friendly look, seems a perfect fit, both aesthetically and culturally.

The restaurant itself induces slow, relaxed breathing. The color scheme is reminiscent of the feel of a Beatrice Potter storybook. Windows are trimmed in light purple and green paint. The walls are white with a few gray photographs spaced along a narrow but airy hallway leading to two of the restaurant's dining areas. Panes of stained glass are poised between a small bar area and the main dining room, in which patrons can look through two large windows into a steel-lined kitchen. Large windows in the front of the restaurant allow light to filter in through the early evening hours.

Tables are neatly set with white tablecloths and napkins. Servers wear vests embroidered with grapes, paired with black slacks and white dress shirts. On the surface Three Onions, with its playful, simple decor, would make anyone feel comfortable.

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When my guests and I were taken to our table, the hostess seemed somber, far less perky than the server who later approached us. Most of the servers traveling in and out of the kitchen's open doorway looked like they were pallbearers at a funeral, a mood that doesn't match the restaurant's light-hearted decor. It was a busy Saturday night, but regardless, my party of six appeared to be a low priority. We waited more than a few minutes before ordering drinks and waited even longer between our appetizers and entrees. Our server knew little about the wines listed on the restaurant's large wine list, which offers no descriptions or vintages, but did offer to find out some answers to my questions. A few minutes later she returned. To her credit, when she asked how our meals were, picking up the plates of two of my friends' less than half-eaten quesadillas, she offered to take the meals off of their bills. The restaurant is new, she said, and open to constructive criticism.

The menu still is flexible.

While the overall meal was not incredible, certain dishes held promise for the young restaurant. The Three Onion tart - made with goat cheese, leeks, Vidalia onions and chives - was scrumptious. The fall salad - made with ricotta salada, beets, wood-fired Vidalia onions, artichokes and red wine vinaigrette - is perfect for someone stuck between ordering a salad or an appetizer. A serving of scallops over an excellent fennel cream sauce was quite satisfying. A tuna appetizer, advertised on the menu as being served medium rare, came out well and, well, wasn't what I had hoped. Despite the restaurant's special menu section on quesadillas, two of three types ordered that night didn't pass the test - they were bland, with very little cheese to hold them together. The duck breast was decent, a little overspiced, but still palatable. The traditional cheese pizza received a thumbs up from the table's pacified, resident 6-year-old.

The restaurant is new and willing to acknowledge that. It will be worth the wait to see if Three Onions delivers on the potential it has shown.

Three Onions

n Food: 2 1/2 forks (out of 4)

n Service: 3 forks (out of 4)

n Atmosphere: 3 1/2 forks (out of 4)

n Value: 3 forks (out of 4)

Hours: Three Onions opens for dinner at 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and at 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Depending on business, the restaurant stops seating between 9 and 9:30 p.m.

Prices: The menu fluctuates daily. On the evening of this review, prices ranged from $3.95 for a bowl of Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Nuts to $21.95 for Shrimp and Sea Scallops over risotto.

Phone: Call 1-304-876-3462, or go on the Web to http://www.threeonions.com .

Location: 117 E. German St., Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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