Bay Bites
Ristorante Piccola Roma
by Gabby Crabcakes

Parents' Weekend at the Naval Academy is probably not the best weekend to choose downtown Annapolis as a destination for dinner, but I was feeling the need for some pampering and some good Italian food. It also seemed like as good a time as any to investigate the change in ownership of one of the shining stars in Italian cooking in our area: Ristorante Piccola Roma.

I was wise to call ahead as the restaurant was bustling (and yes, several of the tables were occupied by fresh-faced midshipmen and their families). As requested, a window table was waiting. I prefer the front room of this 60+ seat restaurant because it offers you store-front window views of Main Street activity.

Since their April purchase, new owners husband and wife team Silvana Recine and Arturo Silvestrini have made some changes: new white table linens, freshly painted walls and tin ceilings, art deco lighting fixtures and white floor-to-ceiling window drapes. The outcome is much brighter yet subdued, especially the back room which used to have the feel of a less desirable dining room.

A quick scan of the menu revealed no significant changes, but Recine says a new menu highlighting Italian regional cooking will be introduced next month. Recine runs the show. She has a formidable track record in D.C. and Virginia, most notably working with world-renowned restaurateur Roberto Donna at I Matti and co-owning popular Primi Piatti. Silvestrini is busy as an aerospace engineer and businessman.

She envisions Piccola Roma as a "personal dining room for each client," accommodating personal requests. In the meantime, the existing menu offers a variety of tantalizing Italian dishes that should satisfy most tastes.

Our server, Rolando, was friendly and helpful but also respectful and professional enough to not rush our order. It is so nice to go to a restaurant and not be rushed - which should not be confused with being ignored. We were allowed to linger over our cocktails without pressure to order.

When we were ready, Rolando arrived with a silver tray displaying the appetizers of the evening. It requires self-control not to order from this attractive tray, and self-control is not one of my strong suits, especially when it comes to good food. Still, I selected an appetizer not on display, lumache alla Sambuca ($5.50), escargot sautéed in a Sambuca and shallot butter sauce served over grilled fennel. The aroma alone was heavenly! Be sure to request a basket of the foccacia and Tuscan bread (from the ovens of Giolitti's) so you can absorb all of the excess sauce.

My companion ordered bruschetta ($4.50), which was on the tray but not on the menu. Two large slices of Tuscan toast were topped with minced tomato and yellow pepper, subtly seasoned with olive oil and herbs. Another choice that piqued my interest was the prosciutto e granchi ($7.50) jumbo lump crab meat and prosciutto in an artichoke cream sauce served in a puff pastry. Sounds like a good one to share.

For our entrees, the menu tempted with different incarnations of poultry, veal, beef, fish, and, of course, pasta. The specials for the evening were all from the water: swordfish (I still have trouble ordering this over-harvested fish); shrimp stuffed with crabmeat; and a whole rockfish (filleted table-side). We were lured by the sound of penne al salmone ($16) smoked salmon in a basil, tomato and cream sauce and ravioli ai porcini ($15) wild mushroom ravioli in a sun-dried tomato, vermouth, sage and cream sauce.

But cartoccio di pesce ($18, fish of the day baked in parchment paper with orzo, herbs, garlic and julienne vegetables in a white wine sauce) was a given for me when I learned the fish was salmon. The salmon was steaming hot as the parchment was opened at the table, and wonderfully melded with the orzo, zucchini and seasoning. My companion, on the other hand, was eager to order the filetto ripieno ($19.50) a large filet mignon stuffed with spinach, prosciutto and goat cheese served with a leek demi-glaze. Prepared perfectly medium rare, not a morsel was spared. A house mesclun salad comes with all dinners, and is a nice intermezzo with a light vinaigrette, orange slice, tomato wedge and pistachios.

The wine list is all Italian and ranges in price from $18-$65 (glasses of house wine $4.50). We asked for assistance from our server. Rolando recommended a nice and reasonable bottle of vigneto buschetta ($27) that came to life as we drank it.

All things said and done, my needs were satiated. When the silver tray with desserts (again, provided by Giolitti's), it was time to resist temptation.

I am eager to see what's on the horizon for Ristorante Piccola Roma.


Ristorante Piccola Roma

200 Main Street Annapolis 410/268-7898

Proprietors: Silvana Recine & Arturo Silvestrini

Reasons to go: Fine Italian food and service -- personalized.

Something to think about: You pay for the privilege.

| Issue 33 |

Volume VII Number 33
August 19-25, 1999
New Bay Times

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