- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Rockfish adds a new twist to Annapolis’ restaurant row. Described as a casual-elegant place to meet, it is somewhere between trendy good eats and upscale.

Director of Operations Charlie Bauer had the right idea when he took over the property and opened the Rockfish three months ago.

Mr. Bauer knows a lot about the city’s Eastport neighborhood, having operated nearby O’Learys, arguably Annapolis’ best upscale seafood restaurant, for many years.

The new, open dining room, which can seat 200, is a refreshing change from the dark, dingy, damp-smelling restaurants that occupied the space previously.

Old-time photos — most with a fishing theme — hang on the walls of the dining room and restrooms — but that’s really all that is old-fashioned about this place.

Unlike many establishments that try to cram as many people as possible into the dining room, Rockfish leaves plenty of space between tables.

The icing on the experience is the staff of courteous waiters anxious to help.

As an appetizer, the Prince Edward Island mussels ($9) were prepared traditionally in a light white-wine sauce with herbs and lemon butter.

The mussels were plump and flavorful, steamed to perfection. Served with baguette strips to soak up the juices, the mussels would have satisfied as the evening’s main dish.

Other intriguing starters were the fried goat cheese with mango-walnut chutney; Thai chicken wings with cucumber basil raita; grilled calamari with hummus; and a blue-crab quesadilla with guacamole.

Blue Point oysters, topneck clams and tuna sashimi are available from the raw bar on most nights.

The house salad is greens with red grape tomatoes, red seedless grapes and walnuts tossed with sweet-onion-mustard vinaigrette.

Looking for something other than the traditional Maryland cream of crab soup? Try the rockfish seafood bisque ($3 cup; $6 bowl). It’s a light, flavorful soup with a large presence of melt-in-your-mouth striped bass.

Personal pizzas are made in the kitchen’s stone-hearth oven. Grilled vegetable, Buffalo chicken and Italian sausage, topped with roasted fennel, Roma tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil are sure to satisfy the non-seafood-lover in your party.

Atop the main-plate list — no surprise — is a grilled whole rockfish ($23). Stuffed with lemon and fresh herbs, the fish is then roasted on a wood-burning rotisserie grill and served with lemon-caper remoulade, a very tasty combination. The farm-raised striper stretched from one end of the plate to the other. Beware; there is no tableside deboning of the fish — you are on your own.

Farm-raised Canadian salmon ($18) is grilled over the charcoal fire and served with caper-lemon butter. A generous portion of salmon had a crisp crust, but was flaky and moist on the inside. The butter added just a touch of flavor without making the fish heavy or too rich.

Beef tenderloin medallions are grilled and served with teriyaki-glazed mushrooms. There also is a 14-ounce rib-eye steak with pasilla chilies, cumin, garlic and lime zest.

The pasta special for the evening was linguini with smoked salmon and grilled shrimp. The chef again let the flavors of the seafood shine through, with a very light and refreshing broth on the pasta rather than a rich sauce. The smoked salmon provided the perfect contrast to the sweet grilled shrimp served on a skewer.

Another interesting pasta plate was the farfalle tossed with chicken, sweet Italian sausage, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives.

Entrees, except for pasta, come with one side dish, which easily serves two. They also can be ordered a la carte. Corn pudding was a comfort-food dream, bursting with sweet corn flavor without too much custard. Cheddar mashed potato gratin got mixed reviews; the texture and very intense cheddar flavor can be too much for some. Other options are creamed spinach; green beans and applewood-smoked bacon; pineapple cole slaw; crispy fries; roasted asparagus; fried green tomatoes and sauteed exotic mushrooms.

The special dessert of the evening was a comforting berry gratin. Strawberries and blackberries were mixed with a bit of cream for flavor and richness, then topped with a touch of streusel on top for crunch. The berries were flavorful, and the cream added just the right amount of sweetness. Other options include a New York cheesecake, six-layer chocolate cake and carrot cake with raisins, walnuts and pineapple.

RESTAURANT: The Rockfish, 400 Sixth St., Annapolis; 410/267-1800; www.rockfishmd.com

HOURS: Dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; lunch, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

PRICES: Soups and salads, $2 to $17; appetizers, $9 to $12; pizzas, $9 to $13; sandwiches, $8 to $14; entrees, $16 to $29; side dishes, $3 to $5; desserts, $5 to $6

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: On-site

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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