White Flint, once a thriving suburban shopping mall, is now a fossil holding shuttered Borders and Pottery Barn stores. But across the street, the new Pike & Rose project is betting that there’s still retail life in and around Rockville by positioning itself as a more modern suburban destination, a mixed-use development where slicked-up apartments sit atop olive-oil shops. Eleven restaurants and cafes are set to debut there this year—including a beer garden by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, the folks who brought Birch & Barley to Logan Circle—but for now the centerpiece is City Perch, a sprawling, amber-lit dining room next to a posh movie theater.
The marquee name attached to the restaurant and its sister theater, iPic (where your $22 reclining seat includes waiter service) is an unexpected one: Sherry Yard, a James Beard Award-winning pastry chef who for nearly 20 years created the desserts at Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills flagship, Spago.
The board that lists local purveyors might come off as a desperate ploy to create a sense of community in a new development, the reclaimed-wood-lined place looks as if it could be the lobby dining room of a Marriott, and the whole outfit is owned by a Florida chain, but here’s another surprise: The restaurant makes a real effort to procure good and interesting local ingredients. New Frontier bison and Trickling Springs butter (happily) show up on lots of menus these days, but how many high-volume places are also pouring a rosé and a Pinot Noir from Maryland? Or stirring cocktails with an obscure Pennsylvania vodka? Or serving pork from two Virginia farms?
As you might expect from Yard’s résumé, breads and desserts are sure bets. A quartet of breads and butters arrayed on a round slab of tree trunk proves worthy of its $10 charge. I could eat the perfectly flaky orange-sage biscuit for breakfast every morning, and the Chinese buns, sheened with butter, are nearly as hard to step away from.
Yard’s almost comically large desserts pull off a tough balancing act, mixing technical precision with a kid-like glee. Witness the banana/chocolate-chip soufflé—she was known for a raspberry version at Spago—with its beautifully crisp edges, fluffy interior, and spill of chocolate sauce in the center. Her cream puff, presented in a cage of golden spun sugar, is filled with a decadent orange-scented custard. And baked-Alaska pie, with its crunchy gingerbread crust and a layer of pumpkin gelato, is finished with a van Gogh-like swirl of meringue.
What comes in between those flourishes is shakier. There are mustardy deviled eggs with shards of fried chicken skin and a fine deconstructed wedge salad. But for all of its gobs of melty Gruyère and bits of short rib, the broth of the French onion soup tasted underdeveloped and dull. A sheath of crisped brioche couldn’t improve the flavorless crabmeat hiding inside miniature crabcakes. An appetizer of waffles draped with smoked salmon and crème fraîche and sprinkled with trendy everything-bagel seasoning fared better, but the Cheesecake Factory-worthy portion—it could feed four—seemed out of step with everything else on the table.
When you get into the entrée section, prices veer into fine-dining territory. Meats and fish dishes are judiciously portioned and come bare on a plate—there are family-style sides for an extra $7 to $12. Suddenly, those two tiny filets of bland sea bass with listless fennel fronds seem like a $36 insult. A small $26 cut of cedar-smoked salmon was a lush medium-rare but doused in too much oil.
If there’s one main dish to focus your meal around, it’s a platter of rotisserie duck for two. The bird is a thing of beauty, all lacquered skin and luscious meat, and its accompaniments—sprigs of cilantro, Mason jars of pickled radish, and those fabulously buttery Chinese buns—turned it into one of the most memorable sandwiches I’ve had in a long time.
With more dishes like that duck, City Perch could actually become a destination in a neighborhood that’s starved for ambitious dining. But for now, I’d choose to survive mostly on bread—and dessert—alone.