- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Osteria 177 touts itself as the ultimate expression of what an Italian-Mediterranean restaurant should be.

Located on the corner of Main and Conduit streets in downtown Annapolis, Osteria is in a building that longtime residents will tell you once housed — of all things — a Burger King.

Nothing against the King, but upscale Osteria seems to be more of a natural fit for the city’s historic main thoroughfare.

Based on the crowd Friday night, word is getting around about the latest trendy — and pricey — restaurant to move into the Annapolis dining scene, one that used to be known only for its traditional crab cakes.

Once inside, you will forget about the old burger chain. Osteria has dressed up the place with contemporary artwork, a mix of earthy tile flooring, bay blue carpeting and romantic lighting.

The menu consists of country Italian and Mediterranean dishes. Bread and bread sticks are brought to your table along with a bottle of olive oil and fresh grated Parmesan. An extensive wine list offers a worldly mix of reds and whites by the glass or bottle.

Tuna carpaccio ($13) offers a perfect contrast of textures and flavors. The thinly sliced ahi was very fresh and flavorful. Caramelized onions and golden raisins added a sweet, chewy texture, while arugula was slightly bitter and crisp. Soft, mellow avocado played well with the crunch of toasted pine nuts. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar gave everything a bright finish.

Other appetizers include prosciutto, figs and melon; clams and mussels with garlic; grilled baby calamari; and shrimp Malaga, shrimp stuffed with sauteed baby spinach and Manchego cheese, wrapped with prosciutto in filo dough, flash fried and served with roasted red pepper coulis.

The day’s specials sheet contained eight entrees, all unusual offerings. Boneless pheasant ($27) was stuffed with a variety of herbs and black truffles, oven roasted and finished in a red Barolo wine sauce. The pheasant medallions were very rich and flavorful, with a prosciutto wrapper to add even more flavor and a bit of a crunch. The sauce was subtle, so it didn’t overwhelm the delicate flavor of the pheasant.

Swordfish Siciliana ($24) was a thinly sliced swordfish loin encrusted with Parmesan and herbs and served with a touch of tomato relish and lemon sauce. This was truly a Mediterranean dish, with the classic herbs and flavorful tomatoes nicely accenting the fish. The cut of fish itself was unusual, with a slight crust on the outside and flaky seafood on the inside, without the strong fishy taste that sometimes accompanies swordfish.

There was also a pasta filled with pear and ricotta and Gorgonzola cheeses; sauteed calf liver; a 16-ounce veal chop stuffed with Prosciutto di Parma and fontina cheese; and venison tenderloin with cured soft figs.

From the regular menu, grilled filet of grouper ($22) was served in a white wine sauce with garlic, sweet capers, olives and cherry tomatoes. The fish melted in your mouth. I only wish the fillet were a little bit bigger.

Osso buco was tender veal shank braised slowly with thin diced mixed vegetables in a red wine reduction sauce. Grilled lamb chops are served with a reduction of port wine and rosemary sauce.

All main plates are served with chef’s choice of potato and vegetable. Nicely presented mashed potatoes were cold and didn’t offer a lot of flavor. Sugar snap peas were not overly hot either, but their flavor was not compromised by their temperature. They were sweet and crisp.

There are five pasta offerings. The most interesting are the Maine lobster tail with julienned zucchini, tarragon and shallots sauteed with white wine and lobster veloute sauce served over tagliolini egg pasta.

The regular menu offers quite a selection of desserts, but the evening’s specials won out. Pear tart a la mode offered a flaky crust with juicy slices of pear. Flavorful strawberry ice cream added a lot of sweetness to the dish. Ricotta cheesecake was smooth and heavenly, topped with luscious fresh berries. Both desserts were accented with a tangy combo of sauces, possibly strawberry and apricot. A double — white and dark — chocolate mousse was also among the specials.

Service was attentive, but not smothering.

RESTAURANT: Osteria 177, 177 Main St., Annapolis; 410/267-7700

HOURS: Lunch Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Monday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

PRICES: Dinner appetizers $7 to $13; soups/salads $5 to $10; pasta plates $16 to $25; entrees $16 to $39; desserts $7 to $9

RESERVATIONS: Recommended

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Street or nearby garage

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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