Whopping portions of nicely seasoned entrees, hot crusty bread and a waterfront location make a meal at Vespucci's in the old Harbour House building on the City Dock in Annapolis worth trying.
But service problems, dismal decor and disastrous desserts led my dining companion, Lisa Antonia Ranghelli, a 31-year-old Washington professional woman, and me to agree the eatery is a wanna-be elegant restaurant serving food that lacks oomph and doesn't merit the high prices.
The restaurant has a more moderately priced bistro on the lower level and another on the outside dining deck, but we opted for the swankier upstairs room, a darkly decorated setting that had the feel of a hotel dining room and operalike background music that was cloying and unnecessary.
We started with appetizers so bountiful we were full by the time we were finished.
The Antipasto Sfizioso -- an array of grilled eggplant, artichoke hearts, olives and other vegetables -- was tastily robust with a plentiful combination of flavors and textures, yet vinegary enough to pucker my lips.
Lean cuts of prosciutto on the Antipasto Vespucci balanced the flavorless blocks of mozzarella cheese on the platter that included other thinly sliced meats and cheeses. But the arrangement on plain white plates was uninspired.
We enjoyed a hearty loaf of Italian bread still warm from the oven until the arrival of our salads, sparse servings of leafy greens bathed in a zingy oil and vinegar dressing that had nice hints of basil and thyme.
The main courses were the highlights of the meal. What Risotto )) Pescatore -- a rice dish with scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, squid and crab meat -- lacked in creaminess, it more than made up for with a rich, but not overpowering, seafood flavor.
It paled slightly in comparison with the outstanding Scialatielli Amalfitani -- a flavor bonanza of thick, flat pasta ensconced in mozzarella cheese and generously studded with unpeeled eggplant chunks and cherry tomatoes. At $14.95, it was the least expensive entree on the menu and definitely the kind of meal you feel guilty eating because you know how rich it is, but you don't care because it tastes so good.
As for our desserts, all were flops. The tiramisu had no kick. A strawberry mousse in a cup lacked texture and was swimming in liquid. The caramel-topped flan was a shimmying mess that we rejected after two bites. And when we asked to try the gelato listed on the menu, our waiter, who had gone out of his way to answer questions and make recommendations earlier, didn't know what it was and denied it was available.
Where: 7 Dock Street, Annapolis. 410-571-0100.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekends.
Prices: Appetizers and soups, $4.95 to $9.95 in restaurant; main courses from $14.95 to $26.95
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express.
Pub Date: 4/17/97