Bay Bites
Splurge at Northwoods
by Gabby Crabcakes

From time to time we have occasion to splurge on fine dining: birthdays, anniversaries or an attempt to impress someone special. Considered one of the finest spots around, Northwoods in West Annapolis offers not only great food and precise service but also a prix fix option that will take the guesswork out of the hit to your bank account.

For nearly 14 years, Northwoods has been serving local and imported dishes with flare and creativity. While the menu features a variety of a la carte selections, the best way to enjoy true pampering every night but Saturday is to select the "complete dinner special." Four courses, including your choice of anything on the menu, as well as specials: appetizer, salad, entree and dessert for $27.95. (A better deal two years ago at two dollars cheaper, but still the way to go.) It may sound gluttonous, but plan ahead and save your appetite because it's all worth the indulgence.

To set the mood, the restaurant, which was originally a private residence, has the requisite dim lighting and candlelit tables. The dining room seats 70-plus, with additional seating available on the trellised patio (weather permitting).

Tables are festooned with neutral cloths (ours showed its age with frayed edges), fresh flowers and a votive globe. Soft music floats throughout the vaulted ceilings. The majority of artworks are slightly faded floral prints and could use some updating, but I'm nit-picking. You should be focusing on the food.

While we waited for our guests to join us, my companion and I both enjoyed perfectly appointed cocktails. My Stohli martini was served in a chilled glass with a generous side car ($5.25). We were offered a basket of warm, thickly sliced herb bread ( supplied by Miss Nancy's Fancy Bakery) with whipped butter. With so many courses yet to come, it's an obvious mistake to eat the bread; however, this bread was heaven. I couldn't stop myself!

Once our guests were made comfortable, our waitress informed us of the evening's specials. There were four, including a grilled yellowfin tuna served with spinach, artichoke hearts and a yellow pepper coulis and a filet of seared salmon on a ragout of lentils, fennel, carrots and celery. There were also veal scaloppini and mahi mahi specials. In addition to the evening's specials, entrees and pastas whet the appetite in description as well as taste. All are served with vegetable of the day and roasted potatoes.

Since it was a given that our party would all be enjoying the "complete dinner," the price of each special was no issue, but likely it fell within the $19.50-23 range of the entree prices on the menu.

For our appetizer course, we chose two: gambas ajillo ($6.95), a Spanish tapas of shrimp sautéed with garlic and red pepper in olive oil and lemon; it is an ample serving of small shrimp bathed in a tasty sauce. And my personal favorite, escargots Bugatti ($6.75), a beautiful serving of escargot baked in mushroom caps swimming in a sinful garlic wine cream sauce. Whatever bread was left in the basket was put to work mopping up this wonderful sauce! (It was at this point that I knew I wouldn't make it to dessert.)

The soup of the day was a fresh and zesty gaspacho ($4.75).

A house Caesar with a twist of tomatoes, cucumbers and mushrooms made a nice cleansing course.

For those with difficulty making decisions, an antipasti Northwoods ($7.95) offers a variety of appetizers and the Northwoods Connection ($22) is a composite entree including a small filet mignon, veal scaloppini and shrimp.

When it came to entrees, hard to deny was beef Wellington ($22), a large filet mignon with a layer of pate surrounded by a delicate puff pastry and served with a brandy Bordelaise sauce. The beef was cooked perfectly and nearly melting in my mouth. The seafood Rockefeller ($21) is a must-have for those without coronary problems. This dish combines Gulf shrimp, sea scallops, mussels and crabmeat in a tarragon Pernod cream sauce served on a bed of spinach and topped with Swiss cheese. It tastes and smells delicious. However, at this point I started losing speed.

Of course, the best way to complement fine food is with a fine wine. Northwoods' wine list is somewhat daunting for the layman, with prices $18 and up (way up). Our table enjoyed a bottle of Clos du Bois Merlot, Alexander Valley Selection (a reserve of sorts) for $36: a wonderful wine that was gone too quickly.

At dessert time, even those with the greatest amount of self-control will succumb. Outside bakeries including Confections, Sweet Indulgence and European Cakes provide the majority of delectables. An overloaded dessert cart is wheeled to your table and tempts you with the likes of pecan pie, lemon-blueberry chiffon cake, cannoli cake and zabaglione. Pick your poison (I went with a densely rich chocolate chocolate cake), take a bite, and then take the rest home. No need to force it when you can have it for breakfast the next day.

Service at Northwoods is seamless. Special dietary requests were arranged without hesitation. Silverware was replaced, crumbs combed and water replenished routinely and without obtrusion. From Maitre d' Phillip Altherr through the ranks, service - like the ambiance - is subdued and understated with the right touch of warmth.


Northwoods 609 Melvin Ave. West Annapolis · 410/268-2609

Hours: 5:30-10 M-S; 5-9Su

Proprietors: Russell & Leslie Brown

Reason to go: It's any night but Saturday, and you want to celebrate like the rich folk.

Something to think about: You'll need to hit the gym to make up for this one!

| Issue 28 |

Volume VII Number 28
July 15-21, 1999
New Bay Times

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