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Four Seasons Restaurant

December 26, 2004

By E.T. MOORE

FAIRFIELD, Pa. - The slopes finally are open after an unseasonably temperate autumn, and a skier who overshoots the trails at Ski Liberty by a few hundred yards would find himself smack in the dining room of the Four Seasons Restaurant and Lounge in Fairfield.

It would be a lucky error.

The recently expanded Four Seasons - which is about 30 scenic miles northeast of Hagerstown - is half bar and half restaurant, but the overall atmosphere leans more toward the casualness of a comfy tavern. Even in the nonsmoking dining room, dark wood paneling climbs halfway up the walls, and the art comes mostly in the form of mirrored beer signs. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but newcomers might expect the culinary emphasis to be heavy on the deep fryer and nacho cheese as opposed to fine dining. The couple we met for dinner at the Four Seasons on a recent Saturday evening, however, had tipped us off that looks could be deceiving - and boy, were they ever.

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Four Seasons can serve up an elegant meal that can hold its own with most any upscale restaurant in the Tri-State area. If you add fine china and artistic presentation (and the premium prices), you could be sitting in a dining room where the food is worthy of a special night out.

We sampled dishes that ran the gamut from traditional bar food to the menu's upper limits, and nothing was a disappointment.

The most intriguing offering on the extensive appetizer menu was a rather unusual concoction called "crabby fries" ($7.95), a creative and sumptuous dish, which, if polished off by one person, would leave little room for anything else. It's a large plate of thick french fries smothered in cheese, high-quality crab meat and smoky bacon. It might seem that delicate crab meat wouldn't stand a chance against such heavy flavor hitters as bacon and cheese, but the crab flavor holds its own and is enhanced by a tangy dipping sauce laced with horseradish. The steamed clams appetizer ($6.95) was served hot with a side of melted butter for dipping. Though flavorful, the dozen littleneck clams lacked the plump juiciness of clams we sampled at the shore while they were in season.

We had been told the prime rib that's served Friday, Saturday and Sunday was not to be missed. It turned out to be good advice that two out of four of us followed.

Roasting a prime rib of beef, compared with concocting an au gratin or a sauce with a French-sounding name - is a simple enough task. So it's hard to understand why so many restaurants struggle to get it right. Four Seasons doesn't struggle. The ample and juicy prime rib came with a well-seasoned crust and was perfectly medium rare with a delicious flavor that reminded us of what a prime rib is supposed to taste like. And at $17.95 - the most expensive item on the menu - it is pretty safe to say that nowhere in the Tri-State area will you find a better prime rib for less.

We were equally impressed with our two seafood choices - the stuffed haddock ($14.95) that's a menu mainstay and the herb-encrusted salmon ($13.95) that was one of the night's specials. The heaping helping of moist broiled haddock was stuffed with one of Four Seasons' exemplary no-filler crab cakes. It was delicious. Our dining companion also raved about her mildly flavored salmon filet.

The dinner entrees come with a choice of two side dishes. Again heeding our dining companions' advice, we anted up an extra dollar per plate to upgrade from the house salad to the Caesar salad - a smart move. Our friendly and efficient server confirmed our suspicion that the creamy dressing with just a hint of anchovy flavor was homemade. We wanted to sample Four Seasons' mashed potatoes, but they had run out by the time we ordered. We chose instead baked potatoes with sides of sour cream, rice pilaf and fresh steamed broccoli. We found all the side dishes to be satisfying.

Our server told us that Four Seasons' desserts are not homemade, but we decided to give the sweets a try anyway. Our apple pie ($3) and carrot cake ($3.50) weren't noteworthy in comparison to our appetizers or entrees. Our dining companion, on the other hand, was delighted with the flavor and manageable size of her raspberry cheesecake ($2.50).

The bill for two of us - including prime rib and stuffed haddock dinners, two appetizers, two desserts, two coffees and a half-carafe of merlot - totaled just less than $75. The reasonable price tag was the cherry on top of our memorable dining experience.

Four Seasons Restaurant and Lounge

n Food: 4 forks (out of 4)

n Service: 4 forks (out of 4)

n Atmosphere: 2 forks (out of 4)

n Value: 4 forks (out of 4)

Hours: Serving lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. seven days a week.

Prices: The bill for two - including prime rib and stuffed haddock dinners, two appetizers, two desserts, two coffees and a half-carafe of merlot - totaled less than $75.

Phone: 1-717-642-5887

Location: 5450 Fairfield Road in Fairfield, Pa.

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