I felt as if I was going to an intimate party in the cozy cottage that houses Flamant in West Annapolis. A pleasant woman greeted us at the door as we approached and chatted with us during the evening like a gracious hostess.
We didn’t meet the restaurant’s creative chef-owner, Frederik De Pue, who was orchestrating the food for that night’s gathering. He was in the open kitchen, turning out a thoughtful menu of dishes he later described as Continental cuisine with a twist.
“I like to cook the food I grew up with,” said De Pue, a native of Belgium. “I want to have fun with dinner.”
He opened 40-seat Flamant in June after heading the now-closed Table and Menu MBK in Washington.
“Annapolis reminded me of where I grew up,” De Pue said. “It’s a fantastic city and was appealing to me.”
The small, modern bistro with bare tables and stylish black cutlery is divided into three rooms: a bright front space, a middle area with a four-seat bar and two high-top tables, and a back dining room.
We were seated in the middle room, where we perched on backless stools for our two-hour meal. It’s not a comfortable seating arrangement. I would recommend asking to sit in one of the other rooms.
You can ease into your meal with classic cocktails like a martini or gin and tonic, various wines by the glass or bottle, or Belgian and domestic beers.
We jumped right into the snacks and starters and were impressed with De Pue’s deft culinary hand from the beginning.
The Maryland blue crab rolls were intriguing, delectable nibbles. The crispy batons enveloped a full-flavored, creamy crab filling that was paired with an engaging Old Bay-gin dip that reminded me of a dressed-up remoulade.
The heirloom tomatoes tartar showcased the bounty of late summer with chopped yellow and red tomatoes spilling over slices of garlic brioche. The ensemble was slicked with a light tartar-style sauce and punctuated with wonderful crackly capers.
Before we got to our main meals, we delved into two other appetizers. The seared sea scallops would have been stellar by themselves, but the flavors soared with strips of tender, salty pork belly. A smear of whipped potatoes and a crown of thin red onions completed the dish.
The duck confit tart was a showstopper. A meaty duck leg exposing a bare bone was set in a cast-iron pan and tasted just as good as it looked. Enhancements included a light puff-pastry base topped with eggplant puree, capers, cornichons and golden potato chips, which the menu dubs “pommes Maxim.” A few stalks of broccoli rabe were tucked into the dish, too.
A bread course was served before the entrees. The crusty, rustic slices, accompanied by a fruity, seasoned olive oil, were a nice transition.
The concise, seasonally driven menu offered only five main choices, which makes sense given the size of the restaurant, along with a shared dish, a braised ruby veal shank.
Our observant server, who doubled as the bartender, kept our parade of food on track, pacing each dish at appropriate intervals.
Our grilled arctic char lived up to expectations. The luscious, silver-skinned fish fillet was draped over a garden-fresh potpourri of sweet peas and snap peas, and a thick corn minestrone.
A plug of dry-aged beef tenderloin was sumptuous, but De Pue’s extra touches took the meat to a higher realm. The steak, presented with a sleek Laguiole knife, was enhanced with a marrow crust and shallot jus surrounded by potato croquettes and tiny peeled turnips.
The end of our meal was just as impressive as the rest of our experience. A pineapple-coconut ravioli was clever and refreshing with thin slices of the tropical fruit enclosing a coconut cream filling. A scoop of passion-fruit ice cream complemented the creation.
A slight miscue was the frozen Belgian chocolate dessert, which was a challenge to cut. But the peanut-caramel candy bar was heavenly once it thawed a bit and especially when you dragged a bite through a puddle of chocolate sauce.
Lingering over French-press La Colombe coffee gave us a chance to observe the other casually dressed diners who filled the space — we recommend reservations — where the congenial wait staff treats everyone like a special guest.
While several people seemed to know each other, Flamant isn’t just a local place. We spotted a couple of D.C. license plates in the parking lot.
The restaurant, which bills itself as a neighborhood bistro and bar, merits attention outside our state capital. The Belgian chef has brought a delicious dining option to town.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Where: 17 Annapolis St., West Annapolis
Contact: 410-267-0274, flamantmd.com
Open: 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Prices: Snacks, $8-$9; starters, $14-$18; entrees, $25-$38
Food: Modern European cuisine
Noise/TVs: No TVs
Service: From bus boys to servers, the staff was polite and friendly.
Parking: A small lot, street parking
Special diets: Can accommodate.
Reservation policy: Accepts reservations.
Handicap accessible: Yes
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars; Excellent: 4 stars; Very good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star.]