In Annapolis when you get tired of eating out in historic inns or quaint waterfront places, there's always the Corinthian in the Loews Hotel.
It's the nearest thing Annapolis has to contemporary grandeur: lots of glass but also lush draperies, indirect lighting, comfortable banquettes and armchairs pulled up to formally set tables. The decor is seriously elegant, with colors -- shades of celadon and taupe and cream -- designed to soothe. Only the steak knives, so large and mean-looking you could hold up a 7-Eleven with them, seem out of place in these chic surroundings.
I assumed we were being encouraged to eat beef because each place is set with those knives. And indeed there is beef enough on the menu to satisfy everyone from the traditionalist (New York strip with peppercorn crust on request) to the adventuresome (grilled spiced tenderloin of beef with black bean and root vegetable compote, smoked chili-honey creme fraiche and Cheddar cheese corn bread).
But there is plenty else that sounds appealing on this menu, some of which has the potential to be four-star. Alas, everything we tried was flawed in one way or other. And when entrees average around $23, that's a problem.
Take the salad made of bibb lettuce, strawberries and red onions. It turned out to be a mountain of sugared strawberries on a few leaves of lettuce, not a salad garnished with berries as I expected. Or consider the baked-to-order Amaretto souffle: a hot, puffy cloud that should have been wonderful but was overwhelmed by the liqueur.
A small half chicken with two petite lobster tails and fresh asparagus had a Marsala sauce that went beautifully with the chicken but was too sweet for the lobster.
Some dishes are simply poorly conceived. Slices of pork sauteed and layered with shreds of crab meat and goat cheese and then sauced heavily with basil cream was incredibly rich, and the goat cheese dominated all the other ingredients.
A better choice if you feel like something elaborate would be the baked grouper and salmon mousse in a crepe sauced with cilantro cream. Equally heavy, but the flavors were more subtle.
Salmon mousse made its appearance again in a terrine layered with a tasteless sole mousse. But the salmon half with a zingy tomato coulis was delicious. Pan-seared corn ravioli might have been spectacular if they hadn't been so overly peppered their spiciness actually overwhelmed the smoked chili sauce.
But the Corinthian is one of those happy restaurants where the whole works better than the sum of its parts. The setting is so relaxing, the staff so pleasant, the wine list so admirable that it seems mean-spirited to complain that the crab meat wasn't lump and my salad tasted like dessert.
Loews Annapolis Hotel
126 West St.
Major credit cards
Open every day 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $5.95-$9.95; entrees, $18.95-$24.95