- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Now that oysters “R” in season, a trip to an oyster bar is a no-brainer for connoisseurs of the bivalve.

Located at the foot of Main Street in Annapolis, O’Brien’s Oyster Bar and Restaurant is known by most locals as a popular watering hole or a hangout for Naval Academy midshipmen and Navy football fans.

Aside from the solid pub fare, however, chef Doug Walden also offers imaginative seafood plates and new American cuisine. But first, let’s talk oysters.

It’s still a little too early for perfect Chesapeake Bay oysters, so O’Brien’s has been serving oysters from Galveston Bay, Texas, according to general manager Joe Terribile.

The freshly shucked raw oysters were served with cocktail sauce, horseradish and a lemon wedge on the side. Plump in size (a couple were small) they would have been delicious slurped down without the condiments, but the fresh horseradish alone elevated them a notch.

Add a cold beer or chilled glass of white wine, and you’ll be one happy camper. I recommend a weeknight visit to O’Brien’s because from 4 to 7 p.m., oysters in the bar area are 35 cents each (all you care to eat).

The raw bar also serves steamed mussels, clams and shrimp. For non-oyster-lovers — and I know there are many of you out there — the dining room offers a casual retreat and a variety of selections; just pass the oyster bar via a hallway.

The noisy bar area is pretty well muted in the casual dining room. Dark woods, an ornate glass dividing wall, burgundy napery on the tables and a traditional American feel await you. This also is the home of the Navy Wall of Fame, which contains framed photographs of past and present academy athletes.

O’Brien’s has a reasonably priced wine list of mostly California labels plus a few imports and local names. About 10 wines are available by the glass.

Appetizers are standard pub fare and can be ordered any time of the day. Crab balls, crab dip, fried calamari, oysters Rockefeller, bruschetta and chicken wings are among the offerings. All solid, but nothing over the top.

You also can order from the raw bar. A half-dozen oysters in the dining room cost $6.95. If you’re a fan of traditional cream of crab soup, O’Brien’s touts a Maryland Seafood Festival gold-medal winner. A bowl ($7.50) is very comforting and traditional — no exotic ingredients or innovative spices. A generous portion of sweet lump crab meat is grouped in the center for a more dramatic presentation.

The entree selections are mostly divided into surf and turf or a combination of both. My party tried the herb-encrusted grouper ($21.95), beef tournedos with crab ($26.95) and a petite New York strip steak ($14.95).

The large serving of grouper was marinated in sake, then coated with Panko bread crumbs, black sesame seeds and Oriental spices. The bread-crumb crust was crunchy but not overbearing. The fish remained moist, and the sesame seeds and sake marinade elevated the grouper to new heights. A bed of mixed greens provided a nice contrast in taste and texture. A dish of crusty, straightforward mashed potatoes accompanied the meal.

One of the night’s specials was the beef tournedos with crab. The meat was cooked to order and was flavorful in its own right, but the crabmeat and rich sauce made the dish special. Tender asparagus spears were a nice touch along with a baked potato.

The petite steak was juicy and flavorful, also cooked to order. The mixed vegetables were nicely seasoned but a little overcooked.

Other main plates include a sauteed crispy rockfish with brown butter, lump crabmeat and shiitake mushrooms over watercress salad with balsamic vinaigrette; Chesapeake chicken, (a breast with lump crabmeat and a crab sauce); an 8- or 14-ounce filet mignon; tenderloin medallions; baby back ribs; and three pasta dishes, one of which is blackened shrimp and scallops over linguine in an Alfredo sauce.

The oyster bar specials are a great deal. Restaurant prices, though, seem a little on the high side as there are no entrees for less than $18.95. You do get a starch and vegetable with your main dish — but no salad. All entrees are served with warm rolls — but bread and butter never made their way to our table.

There is a nice variety of desserts — chocolate decadence, chocolate banana cake, cheesecake, Reese’s pie and regular and chocolate creme brulee. Chocolate decadence ($4.25) is rich and chocolately; it’s not the most decadent dessert we have had, but certainly satisfying.

Sunday brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a special menu, but you also can order from the regular menu at that time.

For night owls, O’Brien’s offers entertainment and dancing with live music every night of the week.

Maryland’s state capital is a hike for Washington and Northern Virginia residents, but if you are headed east on Route 50, swing by and give the oyster happy hour a try.

RESTAURANT: O’Brien’s Oyster Bar and Restaurant, 113 Main St., Annapolis; 410/268-6288 or obriensoysterbar.com

HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday

PRICES: Lunch soups/salads $4.95 to $10.45, appetizers $6.95 to $16.25, sandwiches $6.99 to $11.95, entrees $13.95 to $15.95; dinner soups/salads $4.95 to $10.45, appetizers $6.95 to $16.25, side dishes $2.95 to $3.95, entrees $18.95 to $33.95

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Street or garage

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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