What is it about Marylanders and Italian restaurants? You can put your waiters in tuxedos. You can offer a sophisticated cuisine and charge stratospheric prices. You can name your restaurant after Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer our great country was named after.
Your customers will still come to dinner in their shirt-sleeves. Women will arrive with bare legs and in sandals. Shorts are not unheard of.
Why this is so I have no idea, but it's doubly true if you're an Italian restaurant on the Annapolis dock, a restaurant which this time of year caters to boat owners and tourists.
Vespucci's is the large glassed-in structure at the end of the dock that was the Harbour House until George Phillips sold it to Raymond Lubrano. (Lubrano is also the owner of two suburban shopping-center eateries, Cantina D'Italia and Mama Lucia.) After extensive renovations, the restaurant reopened as Vespucci's this spring.
Customers have the choice of the downstairs bistro, a terrace with a light-fare menu, and a more formal dining room upstairs with a fine view of the water. It was here we went in our polo shirts and bare legs and walking shorts. We fit right in with the rest of the customers.
Our waiter didn't bat an eye as he poured our wine and served us authentically rustic Italian rolls. He graciously offered to add more of anything we liked on the antipasto "sfizioso" plate we shared. This was a handsome platter of marinated salmon and swordfish, roasted red peppers and two kinds of wild mushrooms, grilled zucchini and bits of fried eggplant, dark olives scented with the Mediterranean, and marinated artichoke hearts and cauliflower.
Without being asked, he artistically arranged one very good order of ravioli alla Vespucci on three plates for our second course. The fat little pillows of homemade dough were stuffed with chopped shrimp and crab, and had a sophisticated little tomato sauce.
Most of the entrees are fish or shellfish, although there are a few meat and chicken dishes. Vespucci's is clearly an Italian seafood restaurant; and this is where the energies of the kitchen seem to be directed. The two specials on the evening we dined were soft-shell crabs and fillet of grouper. Both were perfectly fresh, but neither preparation was inspired and the fish was overcooked. It was arranged with mussels and black olives; on the plate with it were pasta and mixed fresh vegetables.
The four soft shells were small (just the way I like them), sweet, crisp and juicy; but the slightly sweet wine sauce did nothing for them.
Our waiter told us the most popular seafood dish on the menu was the gamberoni Amerigo, shrimp stuffed with crab in a white wine and lemon sauce. Not bad -- although the shrimp, like the grouper, had been baked too long -- but certainly not the most interesting dish on the menu.
When we got the check, nothing came as a surprise except one item, "Bindi Europa" for $17.85. We had ordered three separate desserts from the pastry tray -- a sharply tangy lemon mousse cake, truly dreadful profiteroles and truly wonderful tiramisu -- and it turned out that these were lumped together on the check and called Bindi Europa.
Where: 87 Prince George St., City Dock, Annapolis
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight
Prices: In main dining room: appetizers, $8.95-$9.95; entrees, $17.95-$27.95.
Major credit cards accepted
VTC $ Call: (410) 571-0100
Pub Date: 8/04/96