- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

If you're in the mood for elegant summer dining, imaginative dishes and the freshest of fishes, O'Learys Seafood Restaurant in Annapolis is quite the catch.
Co-owners Charlie Bauer and Paul Meyer have made O'Learys the place to be. Just one visit and you will be a pro at reeling in upscale seafood delicacies.
O'Learys has been a part of the Annapolis dining scene for 18 years. General manager Billy Easton confirmed that O'Learys has been under new ownership since March 1998.
Beautiful ornamental grasses surround the facade of the restaurant, which sits in the restaurant row of Annapolis' Eastport.
Inside, the restaurant combines its past with the present by merging old waterfront and Annapolis-area black and white photos (many of them by longtime Chesapeake Bay photographer Marion Warren) in a contemporary setting. A mustard-color paint adorns the walls. Windows in the main dining room offer a partial view of the Annapolis waterfront and Spa Creek.
The service was nearly flawless, and our waiter, Dan, helped make our evening one to remember.
We started with the fresh calamari ($8). Dusted in seasoned cornmeal and fried, the squid was tender and the crust golden brown. A lovely lemon-garlic dipping sauce accompanied the dish.
As a main course, our 6-year-old daughter ordered the ahi tuna ($9) from the appetizer menu. The tuna was pan-seared and served with a jasmine rice fritter, wasabi and tamari-chili glaze. She ate every bite making sure the tuna never touched the wasabi. For the adult palate, the wasabi added an unusual but appreciated contrast to the dish.
Other intriguing starters included:
mmussels with Tuscan bread soup steamed mussels with white wine and garlic surrounding a soup made of pan juices, croutons, tomatoes, onions, peppers and Parmesan cheese;
Russian beluga caviar served with toast points, diced red onion, creme fraiche and hard-cooked egg ;
a chilled seafood sampler consisting of lobster and lump blue crab meat in chive remoulade, shrimp, mussels and gravlax atop a bed of sweet pea tendrils, red amaranth and peppercress in dill vinaigrette (serves two to four);
grilled lamb sausage with orzo, roasted tomatoes, pine nuts and goat cheese.
The appetizers, generous in size, are a great value. Next time, I may order two and skip the main course.
Tonight, however, I had my mind set on soft-shell crabs ($29). Two pan-fried jumbo soft-shell crabs were served with tomato coulis, haricots verts, Israeli couscous and pistachio-basil butter. The crustaceans were a delight. Perfectly seared, plump, fresh bay crabs were complemented by the flavorful couscous. Everything was delicious with a glass of pinot grigio. (Speaking of wines, the user-friendly list is described by many as the best small wine list in Annapolis.)
My wife ordered the sauteed shellfish medley ($31), which features lobster, shrimp, scallops and crab in lobster-cognac sauce. It is served with potatoes Anna and broccolini with julienne carrots.
The shellfish were all perfectly prepared, with large, succulent portions of lobster and crab along with the tender shrimp and scallops.
My wife is very picky when it comes to scallops, and these were definitely to her liking. The sauce was richly decadent, and the potatoes and vegetables were also prepared to perfection, crisp and flavorful.
There's also a crispy grouper served atop black beans and rice, with three large sauteed shrimp, tomato-cilantro salsa, chipotle dressing and radish sprouts; and of course, Maryland crab cakes.
The day's fresh fish selections included tuna, swordfish, halibut, char, mahi-mahi and grouper. The fish can be prepared using any of the following methods: mesquite grilled, poached, sauteed, blackened and baked.
There are only three non-seafood entrees on the menu. One that caught our eye and is sure to please the meat lover in your family is the coffee-crusted rib-eye steak.
A bone-in 18-ounce rib-eye is given a dry rub of coffee, brown sugar, salt, garlic, cumin and chipotle, then seared in an iron skillet and served with black beans and rice and crispy Vidalia onions.
Also, there is a grilled breast of free-range guinea fowl served with polenta crouton, baby spinach with a roast garlic vinaigrette and mushroom glace with roasted garlic and julienne carrots.
As dinner is ending, the O'Learys waiters can sweet-talk you into dessert. While the molten chocolate cake and the cheesecake with peach sauce sounded wonderful, the heat of the day seemed to call for something refreshing, and the Key lime tart ($6) really fit the bill. The first thing you notice about the dessert baked in individual servings is its lovely, curved shell. Its looks don't disappoint either, for it is a wonderful, crispy crust, reminiscent of a fortune cookie.
The filling was equally surprising. Whipped and fluffy, it was lighter than most traditional Key lime pies. Of course, it had that expected tart flavor.
The other dessert choice was a berry shortcake ($7). A dense, flavorful round of shortcake was split and filled to overflowing with whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries. The sauce had some special ingredient that really kicked it up a notch.

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