One of the things I love about downtown Frederick, MD is the dining. If the wait is a bit long at one place you’re bound to find something you like. This is where we found ourselves tonight. The place we intended to go had an hour wait and we were hungry and decided to come back another night. We looked around and couldn’t figure out what we wanted. When you can’t decide what you want to eat, I find it’s best to get lots of things. So we decided on Isabella’s Taverna & Tapas Bar. We’d been once with friends and thought it was fun. We figured getting many “little plates” would be a good way to satisfy whatever we might be hungry for. The wait seemed more reasonable but they had a table ready for us in half the estimated time, so bonus. I like that you can order in English and get what you asked for. Isabella’s also uses local ingredients wherever possible so by eating there you end up supporting a lot of local folks.

Isabella’s is a very pretty restaurant. The Spanish-inspired decor is warm and inviting. It’s a casual place with a nice bar and outdoor seating during the warmer seasons. They have daily specials and a huge menu of mostly tapas which is well organized by type (cheese, seafood, meat, and vegetable) but also have soups and salads as well as some entrees and paella. I’ve heard rumors that the paella is out of this world. They cater as well has have paella parties if you want to celebrate something special by doing something a little different.

Tonight we picked 7 tapas plates to share. Off of the daily specials we selected a baked crab dip and a Peruvian chicken dish. The baked crab dip was lump crab in a cream cheese dip with a sheep’s milk cheese. I’m not a big fan of cream cheese but I was game to try it anyway. It was a little too much cream cheese for my taste but it was creamy and rich with plenty of crab meat. Mike enjoyed it. The Peruvian chicken was tasty, though a little dry. We were given a choice of dark or white meat, we chose white. We ended up with an entree-sized piece of chicken! The seasonings were out of this world and had definitely permeated the meat. The skin was super crispy. There was an aioli with it, which Mike liked, and also a roasted red pepper sauce which was phenomenal. The chicken came with roasted potatoes which were, well, roasted. The Peruvian chicken is available on the regular menu in the form of skewers so I would like to try it again with the dark meat.

From the cheese menu we selected the Quesos Cabrales En Pan. This is a thin slice of Spanish blue cheese on toast, topped with fig jam. The blue cheese was amazing. It had a rich, smoky flavor. The fig jam was just sweet enough to balance the tartness of the cheese. This is an excellent choice!

For seafood we chose the Gambas al Pil Pil, “hot sizzling shrimp in spicy garlic oil and caramelized onions.” I found it mild and sweet with not much of a garlicky flavor. It was good but not quite what I expected.

We chose two items from the meat section. First we chose Datiles Fritos con Chorizo, a date stuffed with chorizo and (local) goat cheese wrapped in bacon and crispy cooked. I didn’t taste much of the Chorizo and thought there would be more goat cheese but this was a successful choice anyway. The sauce and goat cheese softened the richness of the date and the bacon held everything together making it easy to cut into the date and eat it in smaller bites.

Our second meat choice was the Chorizo a la Parrilla con Pure de Patatas y Ajo. This is a homemade Chorizo over pureed potatoes with a gravy-style sauce. It is by far the best Chorizo I have ever had. It’s sweeter than Mexican Chorizo and the heat is subtle so you taste a lot of the different flavors. I could eat this every day and I will probably order it every time I go to Isabella’s.

Our final selection came from the vegetables menu. We had the Hummus Y Babaganoush. It’s a hummus made of chick peas, eggplant, tahini, extra virgin olive oil, and garlic. They blended the hummus beautifully. It was creamy and delicate. The served it over a slice of tomato with toast. This was one of my favorite dishes tonight. The texture was refreshing and the favors were perfectly blended.

I’d like to be completely honest about our experience. It was…less than perfect. Yes, they timed the food to come out in waves so we didn’t get hit with food all at once. But the first wave went to the table next to us and the waiter didn’t hear us when we tried to let him know. It happened again with the second. We caught the waiter that time. When it happened again I was about ready to never come back. They did fix it so the next to the last wave almost went to the wrong table but the waiter corrected himself and got it to us. We then had a wait for the Chorizo and the Peruvian chicken. I thought it had gone to the wrong table but we did get it. When I saw the dishes I figured they just needed longer to cook. So, we got the chicken first and it was good but dry. The Chorizo turned everything around. It was so good we decided to let bygones be bygones. It was crazy busy and the waitress did look tired. The good food won out and we will be going back.

On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being “please pump my stomach” and 10 being “out-bleeping-standing” I’d give tonight an 8. They lost a point for the mixup with our table number and another point for the dry chicken. An unofficial and random poll indicates more positive experiences than negative and tonight wasn’t a total fail. The food really was good so we’ll go back. Especially since I really want to try the “Garlic-Grilled Portobello Mushroom with Wilted Spinach, Roasted Red Pepper and Melted Cheese.”

{January 13, 2013}