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Published: Friday, 11/7/2003

Restaurant review: Maumee Chop House *****

To the short list of elite restaurants in the Toledo area, please add another name: The Maumee Chop House, which graces the eye with its elegant d cor and dazzles the palate with dishes that are both comfortingly traditional and adventurous.

For a year, the restaurant on Holland Road operated as Wally s (kin to the Wally s restaurant in Perrysburg Township) before the owners shifted gears 31/2 years ago, renaming it the Chop House. The specialties are steaks and chops, to be sure, but the kitchen also turns out a full seafood menu and the kinds of appetizers and entrees not often found on local menus.

As examples, try the sushi-style ahi tuna, an appetizer pan-seared and prepared medium rare; pumpernickel-crusted sea bass; luscious salmon stuffed with crab and shiitake mushrooms, swimming in dill cream sauce; garlic and basil chicken marsala; roasted rack of lamb; lobster tail and king crab legs; a spectacular double bone-in pork chop in a tantalizing pool of molasses balsamic sauce.

The handsome interior, consisting of several intimate dining areas and a sizable bar, is a study in brown - dark, heavy oak throughout, accentuated by the gleaming white tablecloths. At the entryway is a Persian-style rug and two striking sculptures, of a centurion standing guard and a woman bearing an urn.

Large vases filled with linen flowers are placed here and there, and faux Tiffany lampshades cast a soft glow. Recorded piano and vocal renditions of pop standards add to the romantic atmosphere. Visually, this is one classy restaurant.

On a recent weekday night, only a scattering of diners occupied the premises, giving the restaurant the solemn ambiance of a library, so quiet that people seemed to talk in whispers, like announcers at a golf tournament. On another weekday night, a good crowd made the Chop House more invitingly lively and convivial, and on weekends, we re told, reservations are a must.

As for the food, starting from the top, you can t go wrong with the delicious house salad, which comes with the entree. It s an artfully designed mix of greens with red cabbage, onion, julienne carrots, and a choice of dressings, served with warm, crusty bread.

For $2.50 more, opt for the Caesar, with a slight citrus edge; the tomato sweet onion, very agreeable topped with bleu cheese dressing, and the spinach salad drenched in hot bacon dressing, which wasn t hot on our visit but it hardly mattered.

Soup of the day was lobster bisque, with generous pieces of lobster in the stir. Appetizers, priced in the $8 to $12 range, include smoked salmon, mussels, escargot, traditional oysters Rockefeller, plus the aforementioned ahi tuna - sesame-crusted and accompanied by pungent wasabi. Served medium rare, it s far better to my taste than well-done yellow fin.

The restaurant specializes in roast prime rib of beef in two sizes ($18.95 and $21.95); filet mignon ($22.95 and $29.95), New York strip, steak au poivre, porterhouse, ribeye, and filet medallions. The 14-ounce strip at $22.95 was done to a turn, thick and juicy, with redskin mashed potatoes.

The evening s one disappointment was the grilled bone-in veal chop with mashed white beans and water crest sauce (parsley and vinegar oil). Although the cut looked delectable, it was a struggle to find the meat amid the bone and the fat, and the beans were replaced with mashed potatoes.

Two other things must be mentioned. The presentation of the food is as elegant as the surroundings, from the arrangement on the plate to the precision timing of each course s arrival. For that we have to thank the servers, who were knowledgeable and invariably attentive to our needs.



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