- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Piccola Roma owner Silvana Recine Silvestrini delivers classic Italian comfort food in her quaint restaurant in the historic district of Annapolis.

The window seats are arguably the best on Main Street for people-watching.

The dinner-only restaurant offers some of the freshest and most authentic antipasti plates in Maryland’s capital.

Antipasto misto alla Romana ($12.50) is a Roman-style mix with grilled baby artichokes marinated in olive oil and vinegar, grilled Italian eggplant marinated in garlic and anchovies, marinated peppers, soppressata, mozzarella, and a couple of black and green olives.

The grilled vegetables stole the show. The eggplant melted in the mouth and was very sweet and earthy. Grilling added to the flavor of the artichokes, and the salty, slightly fatty soppressata balanced out the mild and light mozzarella.

“Prosciutto e polpa di granchi in camica” pairs crabmeat and prosciutto - favorites in Annapolis and Rome - with artichokes in a cream sauce and is served in a puff pastry.

For bruschetta lovers, a good grilled bread (not made in-house) is flavored with garlic and olive oil and topped with mild Italian sausage braised with cannellini beans and tomato sauce.

A house specialty of calamarata alla lole ($17), one of the eight pasta offerings, is a wide tubular pasta shaped like a large ring cut into one-inch pieces, served with sauteed zucchini rings, oven-dried cherry tomatoes and calamari sauteed with garlic, olive oil and white wine.

This is a very pleasing, light plate. The fresh pasta worked very well with the fresh herbs and olive oil and the flavor of the cooked medium-rare squid.

Diners looking for a little decadence with their pasta should order the ravioli filled with lobster, mascarpone cheese and asparagus. It is served with a vodka-tomato cream sauce.

For those tempted by risotto, Piccola Roma needs 25 minutes for the preparation of its version, which features porcini and shiitake mushrooms and truffle oil.

The catch of the day recently was rockfish ($30) cooked in parchment with mussels, scallops, shallots, tomatoes, lemon peel, thyme, olives and saffron and served with an asparagus gratin with butter and Parmigiano.

Saffron fans will love this dish. The flavor was prevalent with the rockfish and the scallops but was balanced quite effectively by the tomatoes and shallots.

Each variety of seafood was cooked properly. If a complaint were to be made, it did seem the rockfish filet was a bit small for the price of the dish.

The tender, thin stalks of asparagus were roasted with a nice accent of Parmigiano on top.

Grilled duck breast ($26) featured a brandy cream sauce with porcini and shiitake mushrooms, served over a puff pastry. Mashed potatoes and spinach sauteed with garlic and olive oil finished the dish. The duck was tender and moist and stood well by itself, though the quantity of mushrooms threatened to overwhelm. The sauce was rich and decadent but tempered nicely by the earthiness of the mushrooms. The spinach was just tender and bursting with garlic.

Another hearty offering is the grilled beef filet, which is stuffed with prosciutto, spinach and goat cheese and served with a leek-and-demiglaze sauce. It comes with roasted potatoes and the asparagus gratin.

An extensive wine list has many Italian labels but also a fair sampling of other bottles of the world.

Desserts are brought in from a nearby Italian bakery. Choices include biscotti, tiramisu, hazelnut mousse cake and lemon meringue tart.

The lemon meringue tart was quite a surprise. Instead of the traditional pie, the layers of lemon and meringue were very thin. With the meringue, this created a wonderful crispy, sugary crust on top that was a perfect foil to the tart lemon. The mousse cake had a lovely nutty bottom and a layer of rich chocolate. The mousse on top had a nice flavor, but the texture was a bit rubbery, perhaps suffering from the off-site preparation.

Ristorante Piccola Roma, 200 Main St., Annapolis; 410/268-7898

HOURS: Dinner 5 to 10 p.m. daily

PRICES: Soups and salads $7.50; antipasti $7.50 to $12.50; pastas $16 to $21; risotto $21; entrees $21 to $30; desserts $8.50

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Street or nearby garage

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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