Note: THIS VENUE IS CLOSED AS OF JUNE 2012
My first impression of Relic was that it is the sort of plush, lowlit cavern I’d expect to find tucked into some quiet narrow in lower Manhattan, down near the Bowery where the city’s glitter is long faded, and where after dark, one knowing where to go can still get just as drunk on live music as on whiskey and wine. Its ceilings are low. A good measure of its interior lighting is left to candles placed at every table. Its loveseats like tandem cushioned thrones that seem to beckon, “Why aren’t you sitting here?” and well-stocked bar spanning nearly the entire length of the place, its bottles and glassware candied by colored neon lighting, conspire to arrest one’s cares for all things beyond well-deserved leisure.
Relic’s interior décor weaves anachronistic fables of a parlor to which 16th-century English monarchs and American frontiersmen of the 1800s might have applied their collaborative aesthetic, were they not separated by Mother Earth and Father Time. That this is carried out with a twist of modern Manhattan chic is no small feat, particularly since the room of which I speak is not in New York City, but in Maryland. Here, light fixtures constructed of faux moose antlers share the room with massive painted renderings of Henry VIII and poor, ill-fated Anne Boleyn. There, sheer, exquisitely-detailed draperies forming alcoves around the luxurious loveseats hang opposite sofas upholstered in leather and faux zebra hide, opposite barstools made of real equestrian saddles. These inject into the room a vibrant sense of whimsy from which it reaps large benefits.
Relic’s food offers as much fusion to the palate as its décor does to the eye, and serves it up with as much style. Small plates are plentiful among menu selections, as are entrée-sized portions of meat, seafood, and pasta. The small plates present a good option for tasting a wide variety of fare in one sitting. The food was served courteously, the menu populated with more hits than misses. The grilled rosemary-marinated lamb chops, though lean, and moist, were slightly underseasoned. An order of fried potato chickpea cakes presented with mushroom and onion offered nothing that I haven’t seen executed better in any number of Indian restaurants whose menus included a comparable course. A plate of pan-seared crab cakes in lemon butter sauce, artfully dressed with a balsamic cilantro drizzle, was as good as any I’ve had, but otherwise unremarkable.
As far as menu standouts, a small plate of warm brie, glazed with honey and served with almonds, tasted like the best and sunniest of childhood summers. The gulf shrimp served in a peppery charmoula sauce laced the taste of the ocean with underlying hints of tangy sweetness that I heartily enjoyed. Relic is also home to a dessert called the Chocolate Melange. Fashioned of white and dark chocolate mousse and served with berries, this dessert not only thrilled my inner child, but inspired in him the feeling of surely getting away with something illicit in each bite.
From where I sat on this recent first visit, nestled in the affectionate arms of the loveseat nearest the open front of the establishment, Relic’s most attractive feature was, and remains, its attention to pleasing its guests. In support of that statement, I submit the following example.
Hours ahead of my reservation time, Relic’s proprietor did me the honor of personally phoning me to inform me that unbeknownst to him at the time I’d reserved my table, a wedding party of over one hundred had reserved for the same date that I had. As part of the reservation, one I’d made some weeks earlier online through OpenTable.com, I’d included a written request for a table away from the kitchen, that my wife and I might be spared from the noise of a bustling galley. The gentleman was phoning to offer me a generous credit on our dinner bill if I would allow him to change our reservation to the same time the following week, citing as his reasoning, that he feared our first experience with the establishment might be rendered unpleasant, should we have to share it with a raucous wedding party after specifically requesting distance from a potential source of noise. I accepted, and when we arrived one week later, the proprietor was present near the front of the room to offer us his personal welcome and show us to any table we wanted (we chose a low one set before the loveseat nearest the front of the room.) When, following our meal, a misunderstanding arose regarding our dessert selections, our table received a visit from the restaurant’s head chef, who extended his personal apology along with a quick and satisfying resolution. It is for this level of interaction and accommodation that Relic earns high marks from me.
Relic is a place that I would revisit more for its bar scene than its food, and not because the food wasn’t enjoyable, but only because its menu didn’t offer me much that I hadn’t tasted before. Having said that, I did enjoy several dishes enough to have since reminisced fondly over them. A diner seeking a fun evening out or an occasional bite between cocktails could certainly do worse than to seek them at Relic. In terms of a visually-engaging lounge with an atmosphere as well-suited to after-work libations as to spending a carefree Saturday night lolling about with friends, Relic is my kind of place.
4936 Fairmont Avenue
Phone: (301) 656-1209