- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Harry Browne’s, overlooking the Statehouse and its beautiful grounds on State Circle, has been delivering distinctive dining and catering in Annapolis since 1979.

Its mostly American offerings by chef Jacqueline Gutierrez continue to put smiles on the faces of locals, lawmakers, lobbyists and tourists alike. The service is top-notch.

The first-floor dining room, which seats 70, is reminiscent of formal settings from the 1930s. A pressed-tin ceiling and zodiac chandeliers from the heralded cruise ship Normandie adorn the room, where tables are covered in white linen.

The second floor is home to the Capital Lounge, full of framed photographs from the Chesapeake Bay region and most notably the Naval Academy and its football teams.

Deep downstairs is a wine cellar, a very intimate setting with a fireplace and a large selection of wines from around the world.

A bowl of the restaurant’s much-touted cream of crab soup ($9) was a must-try. The soup was not served piping hot but was satisfying nonetheless. Velvety smooth but not too thick, the soup had a slight bite but was not too spicy. A generous amount of sweet crab meat was included, and the sherry finish was subtle.

As for appetizers, we had our eyes on the wild-boar sausage with onion and dried-cherry marmalade, cornmeal blinis and a vanilla balsamic reduction. To our disappointment, it was unavailable that evening.

We opted for the braised black-truffle and garlic escargot profiteroles with herb creme fraiche ($13). Three lovely miniature versions of a cream puff were split and filled with tender chunks of snail. The black-truffle sauce was rich and earthy and a contrast to the plain pastry. One of the profiteroles was a bit doughy in the center, but the rest of the dish made up for that small defect.

Recommended for the next visit was the sauteed calamari with tomatoes, pumpkin-seed pesto and smoked cheddar over rosemary soft polenta.

Harry Browne’s Maryland jumbo lump crab cakes ($33) stood up to the praise it gets. Two cakes are plated on top of thinly sliced fried green tomatoes, accompanied by scallion mashed potatoes, corn-and-ham succotash and a smoky corn sauce. There was no shortage of lump crab, and the succotash worked nicely with the dish. The potatoes were tasty but were not hot like the rest of plate.

King Oscar ($34) presents medallions of veal stuffed with king crab meat, served with grilled asparagus, truffle mashed potatoes and bearnaise sauce. The veal was very tender. The bearnaise sauce was rich and slightly herbed and accented the mild meat nicely. The asparagus was crisp but not hard, and it balanced out the decadent potatoes. The king crab in the stuffing can’t hold a candle to Maryland blue crab and didn’t add a lot to the overall dish.

Maple Leaf duck breast ($28) was stuffed with candied walnuts and cognac pears and was wrapped in applewood bacon, served with a cranberry-port reduction. The cranberries, pears and walnuts all lend wonderful seasonal flavor to the dish and add contrast in texture and flavor. The duck was perfectly cooked and very tender; unfortunately, it was slightly overwhelmed by the bold flavor of the bacon. Baby potatoes and broccolini finished the plate.

For the steak lover, there is a seared smokehouse-rubbed Cedar River Farms rib-eye with tasso ham and smoked cheddar cornbread pudding, broccolini, baby carrots and Kentucky bourbon demi-glace.

Pistachio-crusted rack of lamb is served with saffron couscous, English peas, baby carrots and a rosemary mint demi-glace.

Dessert offerings included white chocolate eggnog cheesecake, creme brulee and warm gingerbread pudding. The waiter’s recommended toll-house pie ($8) was not only “warm and gooey,” as promised, but rich and chocolately. Vanilla ice cream provided a nice balance.

RESTAURANT: Harry Browne’s, 66 State Circle, Annapolis, 410/263-4332; www.harrybrownes.com

HOURS: Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday; brunch 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

PRICES: Dinner soups and salads $8 to $20; appetizers $8 to $13; entrees $24 to $35; desserts $8

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Free valet parking Friday and Saturday or free parking on nearby streets

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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