The Waiting Room 

Taking a table at Three Oaks Grill.

I had heard many things about Paulette's sister, Three Oaks Grill, but I needed to come to my own conclusions. So on a Saturday night about 7, my friends and I arrived at Three Oaks Grill in Germantown, across the street from the Germantown Commissary. We were escorted through the first dining room and into a larger dining room in the rear of the restaurant. The two rooms have distinct atmospheres. The warm and earthy ambience in the first room is set by its wood paneling. The second, larger room seats about 80 and is airier due to its surrounding glass doors. Cozy booths, exposed wood beams, hardwood floors, and a stucco fireplace would make this a great space for functions.

We kicked things off with the crab cakes. This crab was treated with respect: It was not overpowered by the breading nor was it mixed to the point of being unidentifiable. The warm rémoulade sauce served with the cakes was a perfect match. We then tried the roasted red pepper. This appetizer was proof that simplicity in cooking can create the most rewarding dishes -- a bright-red pepper, seeded, roasted, and filled with mozzarella and herbs then sprinkled with goat cheese. The purity of the flavors needed little dressing, and the crostini made delectable companions.

For soup, we chose the corn-and-bacon chowder. The lightly creamed chicken broth of the chowder cradled cubed potatoes, sweet corn, and smoked bacon. Though my companions enjoyed the soup, I couldn't help but think it was a mis-order for a warm August evening.

More refreshing were the salads. The Caesar was true to form -- crisp romaine lettuce in a creamy dressing with crusty croutons and shaved Parmesan cheese. The Bel-Air salad, a mix of dried cherries, Mandarin oranges, walnuts, and balls of walnut-encrusted goat cheese over fresh greens tossed in orange vinaigrette, was a bit lackluster. Perhaps toasting the walnuts would help. The warm apple-and-pear salad was a winner. Freshly cooked, warm pieces of apple and pear clung to mixed greens that were drizzled with walnut vinaigrette and crumbled Gorgonzola cheese. The fruit, cheese, and hint of walnut in the dressing exploded on the palate. My companion was sincerely surprised at how good this salad was.

Now, at this point, you may be wondering about the garden salad. Well, so were we. Our waiter, with apparently too many tables to cover, had forgotten to put the order in. He apologized and offered to get one immediately, but we declined, since we were hopeful our entrées would arrive soon. We were wrong, and now seems the perfect time to warn would-be patrons. While you may make a reservation for dinner at Three Oaks Grill -- and I suggest you do -- plan on about three hours for dinner for a party of four. The restaurant was not full or overwhelmingly busy for a Saturday night, and the staff was extremely polite and apologetic, but

Enough lecturing -- let's move on to the entrées.

The menu at Three Oaks resembles Paulette's, though the entrées are a more diversified selection of seafood, poultry, beef, and pork dishes. We picked the New Zealand rack of lamb -- rib chops oven-roasted and topped with a Pinot Noir sauce. New Zealand lamb is of the highest quality because no hormones or steroids are given to the animals. The meat was so tender, no knife was needed, and the richness of the Pinot Noir grape gave the dish its burgundy color and balance. Our next dish, the halibut with crabmeat, was a large, moist, flaky fillet stuffed to bursting with rich crabmeat topped with a fresh tarragon cream sauce, and served with baby carrots.

Veal is one of my favorite meats, and Three Oaks' veal tenderloin with apple-y brandy sauce was too enticing to pass up. I was not disappointed. Thick slices of grilled tenderloin mingled in an almost golden brandy cream sauce. The sweetness of the sauce was enhanced with diced shallots and tempered with the earthiness of sliced mushrooms. This veal was so very tender and came with two crisply fried potato leek cakes.

The filet Paulette, however, was disappointing. The menu called for a Black Angus filet mignon lightly coated with cracked black pepper. What my companion received was an extremely small, overcooked filet that could hardly be sliced with a knife. The filet sat dwarfed in the middle of a large white plate in a sauce of butter, cream with tomatoes, onion, and bell peppers. The accompanying garlic whipped potatoes were the best thing about this dish.

Since the portions at Three Oaks Grill were reasonable, we were left with room for dessert. The Key lime pie had a buttery graham-cracker crust, a tangy Key lime filling, and a sweet dollop of fresh whipped cream. The bread pudding was warm and rich with plump raisins and cinnamon. It was delicious with the café au lait we ordered. Grand Marnier, unfortunately, overpowered the beautiful strawberry crepe with fresh whipped cream.

Three Oaks Grill (757-8225 ) is located at 2285 South Germantown Road,and is open Sunday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch and 5 to 9 p.m. for dinner, and Friday and Saturday 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner. Appetizers range from $6.95 to $10.95, soups and salads from $3.50 to $6.95, and entrées from $16.95 to $26.95. Full bar and an extensive wine list are also available.

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