Wine lovers, rejoice. Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant is the place for you.
The two-story space in the Annapolis Towne Centre features a lower-level tasting room, along with a restaurant, bar and outdoor patio on the upper floor.
Cooper's Hawk pairs varietals with New American cuisine in an inviting, casual setting. It is not your typical mall restaurant, and there's not a wine snob in sight.
The chain opened its first Maryland location in May, making it the company's 23rd in the country. It is named for a winery in Illinois that gets its grapes from California, Oregon, Washington and Michigan vineyards.
There's no doubt about the restaurant's commitment to wine; each dish on the menu has a bin number next to it as a suggested pairing.
On a recent Tuesday evening, the restaurant was packed. We arrived without reservations and were told we would have to wait a half-hour to be seated.
We headed to the bar, where a jovial crew of bartenders explained the restaurant's concept and allowed us to try a few wines before we decided on a glass of Cooper's Hawk Lux Meritage, a red described as "full-bodied and refined."
Several imbibers around us were enjoying wines decanted in large glass vessels at their tables.
If vino isn't your thing, there are plenty of other options, from specialty cocktails to craft beer and nonalcoholic beverages.
We were seated in the main dining room in a timely manner. It has an understated sophistication with soothing earth shades, wood pillars and beams, romantic lighting and bold paintings of grapes and vineyards.
We didn't see much of our server that night. He stopped by occasionally, but the rest of the staff filled in when necessary.
A round of bronzed pretzel bread with creamy butter was a good start to the meal.
The Asian pork-belly tostadas appetizer featured five open-faced morsels. Each round was stacked with slices of pork belly adorned with slivers of scallions, sesame seeds, cilantro and radishes tempered with a sweet chili barbecue sauce.
Another dish, the Mexican drunken shrimp wrapped in bacon, capitalized on Tex-Mex flavors with a tequila lime butter sauce and a bed of fresh guacamole supporting the five fat shrimp.
In addition to other appetizers such as Thai lettuce wraps, calamari and crispy crab beignets, the kitchen turns out several kinds of bruschetta and flatbreads to get your meal underway.
Our main meals, with a few exceptions, showed care and thoughtfulness. The soy-ginger salmon was a finely seasoned specimen. Wasabi-buttered potatoes with a touch of zing and a crunchy Asian slaw were great complements to the fish.
We added a side of steamed asparagus. It was cooked to a nice crisp-tender stage, but the presentation was disappointing. The stalks were thrown willy-nilly on a plate like a pile of discarded lumber.
We can't think of enough positive adjectives to describe the short-rib risotto. The carnaroli rice was like a multitude of juicy pearls laced with shreds of tender beef, mushrooms, onions, shaved Parmesan, white wine and a fragrant hint of white truffle oil. We paired it with a generous side dish of tender grilled broccoli.
The house-made desserts were a great exit from savory to sweet.
The ooey-gooey butter cake lived up to its intriguing name. The miniature round of buttery yellow cake sat in a pool of citrus cream surrounded by balsamic-glazed berries. A simple sprinkling of confectioners' sugar and a strawberry on top completed the splendid dessert.
Even if you are not a fan of bananas, you'll succumb to this version of an old-fashioned English treat. An individual-size banoffee pie was stellar, with a graham-cracker crust, banana slices, a toffee filling and a thick pillow of fresh whipped cream.
And, yes, the desserts came with wine suggestions.
It might have taken Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant a while to get to Maryland — the first location opened in 2005 — but we're glad it finally found us.
You don't want to miss this fun experience, especially if you're a wine drinker.