by Gabby Crabcakes (aka Lisa Edler)
After a two-year hiatus, due to the birth of two children, Gabby Crabcakes is able to eat and dish again.
Two years can seem like an eternity. So the prospect of making a date, arranging a babysitter and picking a restaurant was exhilarating. With several recommendations, the destination fell into place: aqua terra. Yes, thats all lower case.
Located on Main Street in downtown Annapolis aqua terra is the dream restaurant for husband and wife owners Ken and Alison Chase. She is head chef, and they live above the restaurant.
With years of restaurant experience across the country, the Chases picked Annapolis as an ideal location to put their creativity and culinary talents to work in a style they called contemporary American.
In a town that features an abundance of wood and brass pubs, aqua terra sharpens a moody urban edge. The high tin ceiling is painted dark, dimmed lighting is supplemented by flickering wall and table votives, blue glass shades hang over the small bar and mirrors work as art and to open the small space that seats 45.
The evening of our visit was the debut of the new spring menu. Keeping true to their name, menu selections highlight entrees from aqua water and terra land. The menu is not broad but includes soup, salad, appetizers and entrées. Uncommon ingredients flourish. Global representation brings together on one page Australian spring lamb chops, Pekin duck breast, Costa Rican mahi mahi and Australian blue prawns.
Presentation is part of the experience. One in our party ooed as each dish and beverage was delivered. I offer a word of advice when sipping from the enormous martini glass use both hands.
While appearance is important the proof is in the pudding or kangaroo satay ($7) in this case.
For starters, our group of four was able to sample nearly everything. From French onion soup ($6) and lobster consume ($6) to grilled Caesar salad ($7), baby spinach ($7) and house salad ($7), ingredients were all fresh and flavorful. Standouts included the baby spinach salad with cashews, goat cheese, crispy shoe-string beets and a warm shallot and apple-wood smoked bacon dressing. Also popular was the French onion soup with loads of gruyere and a vegetarian stock.
Appetizers sounded intriguing but delivered the weakest punch. The salmon martini made for a pretty dish (gin-soaked salmon wrapped around colossal vermouth olives with Tanqueray gin crème fraîche served in a martini glass $8) but was mushy and had too much going on. The crayfish wontons ($7) were fried triangles with little flavor. The kangaroo satay ($7) got high praise for a fascinating factor set off with Thai peanut sauce.
Entrées continued the Chases flair for the dramatic. Each of the eight choices proved a unique and colorful dish. Popular in our party were Australian blue prawns and North Atlantic rock shrimp sautéed with fennel and coriander over udon noodles in a shellfish curry broth with cilantro and red grape tomatoes ($21) Whew! A mouthful in print as well as on the plate, but it all worked.
The wasabi-crusted filet mignon, served with miso-infused mashed potato puree, ($25) scored big with the carnivore in our group, who was also pleased to find the steak a perfect medium-rare.
With such bold choices throughout the meal, we were surprised at the simplicity of desert offerings: ice cream and crème brulée. Dared we continue? One brave soul finished with the crème brulée and deemed it splendid.
All in all, aqua terra proved me a wonderful re-entry into the world of dining out. Chances are slim that Ill be making any of these dishes at home. Where do you buy kangaroo meat, anyway?
164 Main St. Annapolis 410/263-1985
Proprietors: Alison Paige Chase and Ken Chase
Reason to go: Break out of the mold and try some jazzy dishes with a full range of international flavors.
Something to think about: Can one small restaurant perfect such a variety and maintain its quality?