- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Cafe Normandie delivers the sophistication and warmth of a French country inn.

A staple on Annapolis’ Main Street for nearly two decades, the kitchen blends French country with Chesapeake Bay. There are crepes, omelets, escargots, pates, bouillabaisse, chateaubriand, and salmon with blueberries and beurre blanc, a house favorite.

Now is a good time to visit the cafe, a charming, wintertime hideaway. Inside you will be warmed by the roaring, free-standing fireplace in the middle of the dining room.

There is a vast wine selection, a daily specials board and an early-bird menu that includes an appetizer, entree and dessert for $20.50.

Some foodies say the cafe is touristy, and that is true many times, but for the most part, the food is consistent.

Warm up with a bowl of Cafe Normandie’s cream of crab soup ($6.95), an excellent rendition of the traditional soup, topped off with sherry. There was a generous serving of crabmeat, and just enough bite to make it interesting. The smooth, creamy texture was quite appealing too, not thick and starchy.

The tomato bisque is filled with chunks of crabmeat, and the French onion soup offers a rich beef broth topped with melted cheese.

The six salads include a warm goat cheese with mixed greens and roasted peppers garnished with oven-baked chevre croustades.

Appetizers include fried brie over greens with balsamic vinaigrette; shrimp sauteed with fresh tomato concasse, garlic, white wine and finished with a creamy beurre blanc sauce; and squid lightly dusted in flour and pan-fried in olive oil, finished with balsamic vinegar and served over greens and roasted peppers.

Regular or buckwheat crepes are available. For the filling, take your pick of shrimp, scallops and fish poached in white wine and blended with sauteed mushrooms and a lobster sauce or the ratatouille: sauteed zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, red and green peppers, onions and garlic.

There are roughly 20 main courses to choose from and an additional half-dozen entrees on the specials board.

Veal tenderloin with sauteed mushrooms and Bordelaise sauce ($24.95) was among the night’s specials. The sauce was the hit of the dish, very rich and flavorful. The veal was tender though not melt-in-your-mouth.

Roast duck with raspberry sauce ($19.50) was half of a roasted duckling. The skin was not quite as crisp as preferred, but still was a nice contrast to the moist, tender duck breast. The raspberry sauce was a good choice to enhance the duck.

The duck and veal dishes were served with rosemary potatoes and haricot verts with slivers of carrots. The potatoes were crispy on the outside, yet tender on the inside, a welcome change compared to the mashed potatoes that grace so many menus. Haricot verts were properly al dente.

Lamb piccata with rosemary au jus or steak au poivre, the chef’s favorite dish, round out the land offerings. The steak, 12 ounces of Angus beef, is pressed in cracked pepper and seared and finished with a brandy cream Bordelaise sauce.

The catch of the day was a choice of halibut, grouper or tuna. The grouper ($21.95) was sauteed and finished with a white wine sauce with artichokes, red pepper and asparagus. Served piping hot, the mild fish was fresh and accented by the wine sauce and the combination of vegetables. The cream sauce was a bit too heavy.

Other plates from the sea include jumbo scallops sauteed with basil, garlic, tomato concasse and Muscadet wine and then served over pasta; and a lobster saute with brandy, also served over pasta.

The desserts are tempting, but when eating French, crepes are a must. Crepe Suzanne was filled with vanilla ice cream, and accented with a lovely chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Quite a fantastic finish.

Warm apples and caramel were another filling choice, which fits the chilly weather nicely.

Dessert specials for the evening also fit the season: pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin gelato.

Ask for a table away from the open kitchen — unless you are entertained by the clanging of pots and pans. The noise level made it hard to have conversation with anyone nearby.

Cafe Normandie is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

RESTAURANT: Cafe Normandie, 185 Main St., Annapolis; 410/263-3382

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

PRICES: Soups and salads, $4.25 to $8.95; appetizers, $8.50 to $20.95; crepes, $10.75 to $12.95; main courses, $13.75 to $27.95

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Street or nearby garage

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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