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Lot 12 Public House

August 06, 2010

By Anne Chovey

Special to The Herald-Mail

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. --Tucked up on the hill overlooking downtown Berkeley Springs is the upscale restaurant, Lot 12 Public House.

Billed as "A Dining Destination," Lot 12 is located in an old turn of the century home. Diners can eat in what must have been the parlor or sitting room, or on the wrap-around porch or at the bar, tucked in the back.

My companion, Pap Ricka, and I arrived on a warm summer night and decided to opt for comfort inside rather than a view outside.

We were immediately seated by our waitress who gave us the impressive menu as well as a wine list. Small tables seating two to four were arranged throughout the room, which had large windows overlooking the porch. The décor is vintage and original art work by local artists, including the chef's mother and father hang on the walls.

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We were seated next to the fireplace. The tables are close together, but patrons are seated in such a way that each table has the illusion of privacy. When full, the room was a bit on the noisy side, and soft conversation was a challenge. Music played in the background but it was barely audible and was more of a distraction than an enhancement.

Pap and I had some questions about the wine list, which our charming young waitress was able to answer. I got a glass of bubbly and Pap a fantastic Malbec.

The menu at Lot 12 is full of complex and enticing selections. The chef-owner, Damian Heath, is a native of Berkeley Springs and is committed to using local produce and sustainable agriculture. The website for Lot 12 has links to the farmers and businesses that provide food to Lot 12.

Pap and I had difficulty choosing among the many options, all of which looked delicious. While we pondered our selections, our waitress brought us a small loaf of warm bread with a fruity olive oil for dipping.

For our first course, I chose sautéed calamari and Pap, fried green tomatoes. The calamari arrived on a huge plate with a small pile of greens on one side and two slices of grilled bread in the middle with the calamari in broth covering it. The calamari had no breading on it and was flavored by garlic and peppadews, those delicious sweet, hot peppers that I am extremely fond of. The taste was extraordinary. Calamari can be chewy, but these were melt-in-your mouth. The broth was just a tad spicy from the peppadews. Although the portion was large enough to share, I slurped up every bit myself.

Pap was pleased with his tomatoes which were nice, thick slices with a crunchy coating. Fresh mozzarella and a tomato-basil relish completed the dish. Edible flowers decorated several of our dishes.

When we began each new course, our waitress brought us clean silverware. It is my personal feeling that a restaurant cannot be called truly fine dining without this often forgotten step. I also noticed that the tablecloths were replaced after each seating.

Pap chose a spinach salad for his second course, but I limited myself to secretly sipping his Malbec when he wasn't looking. The salad, which also was large enough for two people to share, was topped by two breaded and fried goat cheese fritters and a whole-grain mustard dressing. It was delicious with the right balance of crisp, creamy, and tart.

For the third course, I knew right away that I wanted the duck, but Pap had difficulty in deciding among several fish dishes. He consulted our waitress, who advised that her personal favorite was the cornmeal-dusted flounder with corn and crab veloute. She was right. The fish was cooked to perfection and the crab veloute was amazing. A veloute is a white sauce made with stock instead of milk. This one took a mild fish to new heights.

I was diving into my duck, which had the skin left on and was sliced with the leg in a fan on my plate. It was accompanied by a sweet pear chutney and a rosemary potato cake. The duck skin was crispy and the meat, moist, flavored by a bourbon sauce. The chutney was just the right accent. My only complaint with the dish is that the chutney was a bit cool, while the potato cake was scalding. In fact, I ended up leaving most of the potato on my plate as it was too hot to eat. That made me sad, because it was very tasty.

Because I didn't order a salad, I thought I should get a vegetable and ordered brussels sprouts. I happen to love brussels sprouts and these were quite good. Cooked until tender with pancetta, which is like Italian bacon, and topped with Parmesan cheese, their strong flavor stood up to the equally strong duck.

I told Pap that we needed to order dessert, so we decided to split "bruleed" cheesecake with fresh fruit coulis and coffee. To my delight, the coffee was brought first. It is a pet peeve of mine that often I have finished my dessert by the time the coffee arrives and I love the contrast between the bite of sweet with a nice strong coffee.

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