By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Then: Favorite restaurant in Annapolis (2004)
Again: Check, please!
For years, the first word out of my mouth when anyone asked me where to eat in Annapolis was "O'Learys."
Seagrass waving around the facade and a sliver of waterfront in the distance set the scene for a meal that always involved seafood and never left me hungry (the portions were hearty). Even today, I rarely look at crab cakes without recalling the bar set here by a long-ago server who told me her employer's cakes were "held together by sheer willpower."
O'Learys no longer gushes from my lips.
On the surface, you might not notice the steep slip in the saffron-and-burgundy-bathed dining room. Bisque with a cap of lobster cream and a spoonful of seviche on the side looks to be a rich introduction to the evening, and it is. But the seafood garnish, designed to be stirred into the "cappuccino," is dry and crumbly. The saving grace for an order of soft-shell crabs served with woody asparagus (in spring!) is its lemon wedge - and, truth be told, the martini that washes it back. Meanwhile, tuna sashimi shows up as a cold wad of raw fish with too much pickled ginger and a seaweed salad drenched in sesame oil. The heavy-handed appetizer is delivered with chopsticks but demands a forklift.
Dessert won't fill any holes. Both the carrot cake and the coconut cake taste as if they emerged from a vending machine rather than an oven.
A longtime fixture on the menu, grilled mahi-mahi dressed with an Asian-accented barbecue sauce and rounded out with jasmine rice, nut-crusted shrimp and diced pineapple, is pleasant enough. But "pleasant" isn't enough incentive to warrant the drive for a local, let alone someone coming from miles away.