- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

As its advertisements declare, “There’s a fresh new Breeze on West Street.” Breeze, the restaurant, has become a cool addition to the formal Loews Annapolis Hotel.

The New American menu of executive chef Brad Buss relies on seafood, specifically imaginative interpretations of foods from the Chesapeake Bay.

Not in the mood for fish? Not to worry. Two steak plates, a comfy risotto and an herb-roasted chicken dish round out the menu.

The restaurant is tucked inside the hotel, long a favorite meeting place for politicians, lobbyists and local business leaders.

Breeze, which seats 60, opened in summer 2002, replacing the Corinthian Room’s formal decor with an open, contemporary dining room done in shades of light blue offset by teak-toned pillars, a very comfortable setting for relaxing after a day of work or sightseeing.

Start your evening with a bowl of Maryland cream of crab soup ($6). The Breeze version is fairly traditional, with an added dimension of lobster oil. The oil makes the soup rich and almost decadent, without the domination sherry often brings to the dish. The texture also was very smooth and creamy. There was not as much jumbo lump crabmeat as in some restaurants, but the portion certainly was more than adequate.

Other starters include a lobster ravioli with sweet peas, pancetta and bouillabaisse sauce; calamari and shrimp fry with fennel, caperberries and dipping sauces; heirloom tomato panzanella with cucumber, onion, shaved ricotta cheese, Parmesan crisps and balsamic vinaigrette; and grilled hearts of romaine Caesar with shaved Parmesan and garlic croutons.

Breeze also offers “tasting plates,” which are great as a shared appetizer or entree for one. Prices range from $19 to $29. The “Grand Selection” is lobster, shrimp, mussels, clams and bay oysters; get “Shell Shocked” with shrimp scampi, blackened scallops and curried mussels; and the “Trio of Seafood Cakes” consists of salmon, shrimp and crab with ginger and saffron tartar sauces.

Entrees include crispy rockfish ($24) with fried green tomato, fingerling potatoes, asparagus salad and shallot vinaigrette. I’ve become a big fan of the fried green tomato when it is paired with a fish or crab plate, and it was no disappointment at Breeze. The tomato added a nice sweetness to the mild-flavored bass, and combined with the asparagus and vinaigrette made for a tasty entree. The fish and tomato rested on top of the thinly sliced potatoes and the asparagus. A real winner for presentation.

Risotto with wild mushroom and asparagus fricassee ($16) also is available with poached lobster ($25).

The risotto was perfect for a cold winter night — creamy and rich. Rich actually might be an understatement; if you aren’t into rich food, this is not for you. We were pleased with how the flavors of the mushroom and asparagus were so pronounced.

The addition of lobster is not necessary for this to be a satisfying selection, but it certainly adds another dimension to the dish.

As is true of most Bay-area menus, crab cakes are not forgotten. The Breeze’s variety is traditional and served with sweet potato hash, micro greens and mustard cream sauce.

Seared halibut with lentil salad, frisee and caponata sauce and pan-seared scallops with garlic mashed potatoes and wild mushrooms round out the offerings from the sea.

For meat lovers, there’s a hefty grilled rib-eye steak with blue cheese mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables and a grilled New York strip steak with sweet potato fries and a winter green salad.

Unfortunately, this kitchen did not offer petite portions for children who order from the “big menu.” However, the children’s menu was adequate — hamburger, hot dog, chicken fingers, spaghetti.

Desserts are not made in-house, but the standards are still high.

We split a chocolate royale timbale. Other options included pumpkin creme brulee and an apple tart with cinnamon ice cream.

The wine offerings, by the glass and bottle, are reasonably priced.

Breeze is a hot spot for lunch meetings. Try the roasted turkey club sandwich with applewood smoked bacon, avocado and fries or the salmon Caesar wrap in a spinach tortilla with grated Parmesan. There’s also grilled roasted turkey and Black Angus burgers.

RESTAURANT: Breeze, in the Loews Annapolis Hotel, 126 West St., Annapolis; 410/295-3232

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. dailyPRICES: Lunch: soups and salads $6 to $8, sandwiches $9 to $14, entrees $12 to $14; dinner: soups and salads $6 to $8, appetizers $7 to $12, entrees $16 to $34, desserts $6CREDIT CARDS: All major cardsACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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