Bay Bites
Cantina D'Italia: Two Surprises from this Italian Menu

Lured by a giant inflatable snowman, a friend and I found ourselves ensnared in the mayhem of the Annapolis Harbour Center. It's chaotic any day, and during the holiday season the challenge of finding a parking space is that much more difficult. After several cleansing breaths and a few close calls, we reached our destination. However, shopping wasn't on our agenda this evening. Cantina d'Italia was.

Cantina d'Italia is somewhat lost in the far corner of this popular shopping center. I'll admit I assumed this large 220-seat Italian eatery was a chain of some sort. Little did I know it is actually a family-run business with a loyal following.

Granted, the restaurant lacks the warmth of a more intimate bistro. With seating for so many, it's hard to maintain ambiance. But these are issues, along with the stressful parking situation, that should be resolved when Cantina D'Italia moves to their new home at 126 Defense Highway early next year. The new free-standing facility is designed to accommodate the numbers with a more personal touch. Owner Raymond Lubrano is overseeing every detail.

Meanwhile, the current facility (where they have been for nine years) is pleasant with a green and beige theme through carpeting, tile and vinyl table cloths. Lots of windows provide a safe haven for observing endless parking madness. At the entrance, a hostess stand is backed by a large stone and brick pizza oven, as well as a long bar that looks into the open kitchen and prep areas. There are two main dining rooms and a glass-enclosed banquet room available for private functions. Soft opera music could be heard in the background.

The dinner menu highlights appetizers, soup, salad, pasta, veal, chicken and seafood, as well as a brick-oven pizza. An Italian-influenced children's menu offers over half a dozen selections for the youngsters, all priced at $4.50 or less.

A wine list offers a reasonable selection of white, red and rose ($18-$35), and house wine is available by the glass ($4). We selected a very nice 1996 Atlas Peak Sangiovese ($30), a great wine on its own but even better when paired with Italian food. Water, available on request, arrived garnished with lemon and a straw.

To begin our meal, we debated the fried calamari (served with marinara $8), shrimp della cantina (jumbo shrimp sautéed in garlic, olive oil and cherry tomatoes in a light lobster sauce) and the bruschette al granchio (toasted Italian bread topped with a mixture of crabmeat and roasted peppers, $5.50). As we contemplated our decision, our server brought us a basket of warm and yummy mini loaves of Italian bread. After our first nibble, we knew we had to order something worthy of dipping. We ordered the clams arreganata ($8). A half dozen clams were served topped with crabmeat, bread crumbs and spices and broiled with a lemon garlic butter that proved the perfect match for the bread. The clams were a nice size and full of flavor without being overpowered by the topping.

Two specials were available, both seafood and pasta dishes priced $21-$23, including a house salad. As tempting as they sounded, we wanted to explore the more traditional options. Pizza, such as the quattro stagioni (mushrooms, artichokes, roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella, $9 for a 10 inch pie), sounded good, although a bit too informal. Eggplant parmigiana ($13) was proclaimed the most popular dish by our server. Penne agli asparagi (fresh asparagus, scallions, tomatoes, and prosciutto in a white wine sauce $13), capelli d'angelo alla chef (shrimp and mushrooms in a pink cream sauce $18), veal Marsala (veal scallopini with wild mushrooms in a Marsala wine sauce $16.00) and the usual suspects, manicotti ($12), ravioli ($12) and stuffed shells ($12), were tempting. But in the end we ordered the cannelloni Fiorentine ($14) and the chicken Chesapeake ($16). Most entrees also include a fresh house salad with a house vinaigrette, while some also feature a choice of pasta or vegetable of the day.

The cannelloni was baked and served in a large chafing dish - very hot! I was offered a choice between marinara and Alfredo sauce. I compromised and had it baked in the Alfredo and served with a side of the marinara. The ground veal mixture was mild and mellow, which made an ultimate comfort food when covered in the rich sauce. The chicken Chesapeake was a large platter of chicken breast with crabmeat, mushrooms, and peas in a special sauce that looked like the Alfredo but was slightly different. This stew of sorts was served on top a large serving of pasta. A wonderful combination.

We will certainly be looking forward to sampling more tasty dishes at Cantina D'Italia's new home in the near future.


2478 Solomons Island Road: Harbour Center Parole  410/224-1330

Proprietor: Raymond Lubrano

Reason to go: Good traditional Italian cooking with some personal touches.

Something to think about: Parking can be a real pain!

| Issue 49 |

Volume VII Number 49
December 9-15, 1999
New Bay Times

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