Bay Bites
Appetites Always Bon At Café Normandie
by Gabby Crabcakes

I often complain that Annapolis and its neighboring communities lack international dining, but I must admit the flavors of the world that are available can be pretty darn good.

Café Normandie, located on Main Street in Annapolis, offers warmth to both body and soul. The decor is country French, with a strong chalet feel. The ceiling is beamed and angles toward a street-front loft (which is available for private parties of 22 or less). Walls are stucco and wood. Lace and wrought iron as well as hanging plants and bottles of wine randomly placed throughout add to the ambiance. For a touch of the unusual, an old bicycle hangs from above. Tables are draped with floral cloths and topped with glass (easier to clean). Booths and tables offer comfortable seating, but to add to the bistro feel, tables are placed intimately close. At the center of it all is a huge gas fireplace. Visit Café Normandie on a cold night. You don't need to be too close to this monster - it really puts out some heat!

While some diners enjoy the street views from the front of the restaurant, I prefer sitting closer to the open kitchen. It's rarely quiet and you get to ogle the dishes as they are paraded past.

Deciding what to eat off the expansive menu at Café Normandie is a challenge. For me, it's difficult to move past the daily specials.

While I'm deliberating - will it be crepes, veal, beef, chicken, pasta, salmon or duck? - the first words out of my mouth are always, "Bread, please." Served warm and crusty with pats of butter, this homemade luxury is always a winner. Many times I find myself ordering around the bread. The sauce from the mussels Provençale ($7.25) and escargots ($7.50) is a perfect compliment. Of course, the paté (both country and duck mousse are available, $6.75) and baked brie with honey and almonds ($7.50) would be incomplete without it.

The French onion soup is heartwarming. On occasion, I have ordered a crock and a salad and left more than satisfied. Between the cheese, toast and onions, it seems there is little room left for the broth. The tomato bisque with crab ($4.75) comes highly recommended.

Salads do not come with entrees, although starch and vegetable do. For a la carte, the house salad is good, but a bit steep at $5.75. If you want to make a meal of it or are willing to share, you might order the warm goat cheese salad ($8.95). This large plate of mixed greens and roasted red peppers tossed with a light vinaigrette and served with three rounds of toast and goat cheese is a favorite of mine.

Crepes are always good, and several types are available. All are served with a small salad ($7.75-9.75).

On a recent visit, I was torn between the grilled chicken and shrimp with shitake mushroom sun-dried tomato cream sauce over penne (19.95) and the grilled salmon with your choice of bernaise or blueberries and buerre blanc sauce ($18.95). I chose the salmon, but requested both sauces on the side, not sure what to make of the blueberry sauce. A beautiful plate arrived with a large piece of salmon, a ramekin of bernaise and a bowl of a sinfully delicious blueberry concoction, which complemented my large side dish of boiled potatoes and green beans as well.

My companion is stuck in a rut. He orders the same dish every time - bouillabaisse ($18.95). I can't blame him, and frankly I'd be disappointed if he changed his routine. A melting pot of seafood, this enormous bowl is chock full of whatever fish and shell fish suits the kitchen's fancy. On this evening, we counted seven different species (squid, shrimp, scallops, mussels, salmon, grouper and mahi) all swimming in a rich, fragrant broth. As if we hadn't had enough bread, the Bouillabaisse is served with an order of decadent garlic cheese toast. A meal in itself, this toast's secret is the homemade herb garlic butter, or so our server said. The thick blanket of melted Swiss didn't hurt.

A bottle of Tourelles Bordeaux ($20) - a house wine also available by the glass - complemented our meal. The wine list offers not only French but also Italian and Californian wine priced between $20 and $39.

While I don't usually make it to dessert, I succumbed under the advice of our server and ordered to go. Café Normandie makes all of their desserts in-house (barring one). We were encouraged to try the tiramisu ($4.95), which was freshly made. It was fabulous.


Café Normandie
1185 Main Street, Annapolis

Proprietor: Jean Louis Evennou

Reason to go: Great sauces!

Something to think about: Large dinner portions leave little room for the great desserts.

| Issue 40 |

Volume VII Number 40
October 7-13, 1999
New Bay Times

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