By Krista Pfunder
Described as “coastal Italian,” the long-awaited restaurant Baia has opened in the building previously occupied by Mamma Lucia in Chesapeake Beach. Locals have high hopes and have been anticipating this grand opening for months.
My dinner date and I called to see if there were any reservations available for two on a Friday during their soft launch week. We were told there were none but we were welcome to hunt for a spot at the bar.
Jumping in the car, we headed down. I dropped my companion off at the door to see if he could find us two seats. Fingers crossed!
I circled the lot and soon realized there were no available parking spots. All spaces were taken, including some “make it yourself” spots on the lawn. At that moment, my date texted that he had scored two seats. I told him to stay put, order me a drink, and I headed into town to look for parking.
I ended up having to park in North Beach. A bit of a hike, but the walk was a nice one, passing by a marshy area (we don’t have alligators, right?).
Compared to how it looked previously, the restaurant has been updated with a fresh, vibrant theme. Much of the layout remains the same but there are more tables than before and a colorful new decor featuring paintings of coastal Italy.
As I approached the inside bar looking for my date, I noticed that perhaps most of the cars in the parking lot belonged to the many people packing the outside bar. The outdoor bar area overlooks the Bay, as does the new upper-level outdoor dining area. I didn’t make it up there this visit but the views of the Bay are sure to be stunning.
A quick conversation with a manager revealed that Baia plans on changing up the menu to keep the offerings fresh but, for now, will keep this initial menu around for a while. A brunch will also be added in the future.
I took my seat at a fairly crowded bar but didn’t feel like I was crushed in by neighbors. A well-prepared vodka martini was waiting for me, as well as a glass of water and a pitcher in case I wanted more (side note…I was happy to see that because lately, despite asking numerous times at area restaurants for a glass of water to accompany my alcoholic beverage, one hasn’t appeared).
We decided to split a few appetizers and started with the Tenderloin Carpaccio ($20). The tenderloin is served with Castelvetrano olives, arugula, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Dijonnaise, olive oil, and flaked salt. We both liked the dish. The Dijonnaise and salt were a perfect accompaniment to the beef; on a few bites where I didn’t have them, I definitely missed them. It won’t be until he reads this review that my date will understand that he was hogging the Dijonnaise. The portion size was large and even our neighbors commented that it was a lot of food when it arrived.
Next up was the Mozzarella Fritte ($14). Fior di latte, vodka sugo, basil, and Parmigiano-Reggiano arrived as two large, flat pieces of fried mozzarella on top of a vodka sauce. I’m a huge fan of fried mozzarella (I consider the fried cheese at the Maryland Renaissance Festival to be the standard by which I judge all fried cheese items). This interpretation was a good one. The vodka sauce made it excellent. There was a bit more breading to cheese ratio than I like, but I would order it again. Note that the vodka sauce really enhances the dish, so be sure to spoon plenty on your plate and apply it liberally.
We then ordered the Yellowfin Tuna ($20), which was the standout of the meal. Fresh tuna was placed next to pickled cucumbers and tomatoes and drizzled with Calabrian chile oil. I will admit to being skeptical of the cucumber/tuna pairing (I covertly push the cucumber out of any sushi roll with my chopsticks before consuming). I was proven wrong. The cucumber and tuna were a perfect pairing—perhaps due to the pickling.
My date loves dessert and so we asked to see a menu. The bartender said that her personal favorites were the chocolate cake and the zeppole (small Italian donuts). We ordered the cake but discovered they were out. We decided to try the zeppole and chocolate gelato. The zeppole arrived with house-made mascarpone and a berry sauce for dipping. The mascarpone was delicious and added a great flavor to the warm, buttery zeppole. I loved the chocolate gelato and found it mildly addictive.
Full after a few drinks, three appetizers, and technically, two desserts, we made the trek back to the car, which ended up being the perfect end to an evening. Basking in a breeze off the Bay and a beautiful moon in the sky, I decided that next time I won’t even look for parking in the lot—I’ll park a bit away and enjoy the relaxing stroll.
Baia is owned by Jason and Jordan Nagers, and Tim and Ronda Tracy, who also own Brick Wood Fired Bistro in Prince Frederick. Learn more at: https://baiacoastal.com/