- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

Ristorante Piccola Roma offers diners a little piece of Italy in the heart of downtown Annapolis.
"I feel so comfortable here. I feel so loved. It takes me back … " we overheard a charming elderly woman, a frequent visitor, say as she was finishing her meal.
Owners Arturo and Silvana Silvestrini opened Piccola Roma in Annapolis in 1999 (it was formerly La Piccola Roma) and they both love to pamper their customers expect a tableside visit.
The Silvestrinis have quite interesting resumes. She has a top-notch restaurant background having worked in the District and Virginia, most notably with Roberto Donna at I Matti and as co-owner of Primi Piatti. Mr. Silvestrini is Roman born and has a doctoral degree in electrical engineering. He retired from a career in the aerospace technology industry, where he was involved with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs, the space shuttle and later the Skylab and Hubble Space Telescope projects. Most recently he was chief executive for a Lanham-based satellite company.
Since we were early for our reservation, we were given the choice of front- or backroom seating. We chose a window table in the front with great views of activity on Main Street (and is a great place to be seen). Long linen curtains, white tablecloths, art-deco lighting and soft background music create a cozy atmosphere.
Our waiter, who was attentive and accommodating throughout the entire meal, promptly brought us menus (that was the only thing that was rushed all evening).
After we ordered pinot grigio from a wine list that included fine Italian labels, a wonderful focaccia and Tuscan bread basket arrived along with a bottle of olive oil.
The menu offers a variety of tantalizing Italian dishes. Our waiter said the chef also accommodates personal requests, time and ingredients permitting.
We started with "portobello alla griglia servito con gorgonzola e pinoli" grilled portobello mushroom served with Gorgonzola cheese, pine nuts and a balsamic vinegar reduction ($8). This was a winner from all angles. Its presentation was so beautiful, it looked like a dessert. One bite, however, revealed the wonderful, earthy flavor of the mushroom, with just a hint of sweetness from the balsamic vinegar, a bit of tang from the Gorgonzola and a refreshing crunch from the pine nuts.
Other intriguing antipasti included "prosciutto e polpa di granchi in camici" crab meat and prosciutto (Annapolis and Rome delicacies) with artichokes in a cream sauce, served with puff pastry and "radicchio alla griglia, servito con salsa al gorgonzola" grilled radicchio served with a Gorgonzola cream sauce.
When it came to entrees, we ordered spaghetti alla pescatora, the pasta served with clams, shrimp, mussels and calimari in a spicy tomato sauce ($21). The seafood was fresh and steaming hot over the pasta that was perfectly prepared, and the sauce had a wonderful bite.
Another fine pasta entry was the "fettuccine all'inchiostro di calimari servite con calamari, aglio, vino bianco e olio" squid ink fettuccine served with sauteed calamari with garlic, white wine and olive oil.
Next, we ordered the "filetto ripieno con caprino, prosciutto e spinaci" grilled beef fillet stuffed with goat cheese, prosciutto and spinach, served with a leeks and demi-glaze sauce ($29). The fillet was melt-in-your-month tender, perfectly prepared. The spinach provided a burst of flavor to the filling, while the goat cheese offered a comforting, homey touch, and the sauce really packed a lot of flavor. Potatoes and zucchini filled out the plate.
We also tried the "salmone al cartoccio " fillet of salmon with orzo, sun-dried tomatoes, zucchini and white wine, baked in parchment paper ($23.50). We asked the chef if he could pare the dish down for our 5-year-old daughter. He obliged with a pan-seared child's version of the entree.
There's also risotto con scampi, risotto with shrimp in a light tomato sauce (please allow 20 minutes). For veal lovers, there's saltimbocca alla Romana, veal scaloppine sauteed with prosciutto and sage. I cannot forget to mention "abbacchio scottadito," a Roman specialty of grilled lamb chops served with a rosemary, roasted garlic and demi-glaze sauce.
Full portions of pastas and entrees are followed by a mixed greens salad, served with a light vinaigrette, orange slice and cherry tomatoes. Our waiter gave us the option of having it before or after the main course.
Desserts, brought to the tables on a silver tray, are homemade and sometimes flown in from Italy. Tiramisu is made on site but was not available for our visit. Other dessert choices included chocolate or coffee cake, biscotti and gelato.
The coffee cake was not the breakfast variety, but a beautiful individual mound blending dark and light cake with a wonderful creamy coffee frosting, accented with coffee beans. Very elegant and tasty. Chocolate cake was dense and delicious and bursting with chocolate.
This is our choice for authentic Italian cuisine between Washington and Baltimore. Arrivederci.

RESTAURANT: Piccola Roma, 200 Main St., Annapolis; 410/268-7898
HOURS: Lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
PRICES: Antipasti $5.75 to $10.50; dinner pasta dishes $16 to $21; dinner entrees $17 to $29
CREDIT CARDS: All major cards
PARKING: Street and garage
ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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