We were in the Columbia area this weekend and decided to go to the Rooster Cafe. The location is in the strip center off of rte. 108 with Waterloo Pizza, a liquor store, and a few other small merchants. I believe that the co-owner of this restaurant is the owner of Waterloo Pizza, and they must share computer systems as the dinner receipt printed Waterloo Pizza at the top. If I hadn't seen the name on the receipt and overheard some conversation, I would have had no idea that the Rooster Cafe had anything to do with a pizza joint. The dining room is decorated in a casual but fun, French country-like atmosphere with Rooster figurines everywhere.
The menu consists of three categories - appetizers ($5-$7), entrees($16-$18), and desserts ($5-$7) - with about 6 selections available in each. A 'tasting menu' is available for $25 where the guest can select from one of each category. Although portions of the appetizers and entrees are supposed to be smaller with the tasting menu, I found them still reasonably sized. There is a wine list of exclusively French selections, approximately 10 whites and 10 reds - with most bottles priced in the high teens and none over $25. Beer selection was of only 2 bottled varieties - Spaten and Sapporo(!?).
The tomato soup is prepared with cream and some unique spices that give it a distinctive taste. The portobello mushroom is served with pesto with a roasted tomato on top. Both were quite good, but I preferred the interesting subtle tastes of the tomato soup rather than the mushroom, whose pesto overpowered the dish. The rack of lamb was delicious and tender, served over a polenta cake that was slightly sweet. The strip steak is served with a burgundy sauce, that was made with some delicious stock and creamy butter. The steak was cooked at the proper temperature and was quite tender. Sides included a small portion of thick, rich mashed potatoes and relatively plain grated zucchini strips. Creme brulee is an interesting variation that tastes of key limes, not the traditional vanilla. The tower of chocolate is a thick mousse with a choclolate biscuit on the top and bottom, and a side of flavorful raspberry sorbet.
Everything we had was properly prepared, artfully presented, and delicious. There were no vegetarian entrees on the menu, but vegetarians could still piece together a nice dinner from the appetizer options. The only disappointment is that the wait staff is inexperienced, and seem a little bit out of place in this environment. Service is definitely the weak link here, with the owner even coming to our table unprovoked to appologize for the slow, sub-standard service. He explained that it's their second week and they're still trying to iron out their issues. The fact that the owner is aware of this hopefully will lead to improvement in the future.
The back of the house is far ahead of the front of the house, but if they can refine the service, this place will be a slam-dunk for the best, reasonably priced dining in the Howard county area. Even with their service issues, I would whole heartedly recommend going here - just be a little patient.
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