The Dish: Rockfish Provencal
Oct 24, 2014 09:00AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
310 Third Street, Annapolis
By Kimberly Cooper
Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
When it comes to fresh seafood served with a side of humor, O’Leary’s Seafood Restaurant in Annapolis is the place to try. Paul Meyer has been the owner and self-proclaimed president for life since 1998. His wit and charm add to the appeal of the restaurant but really, it’s the fresher-than-fresh seafood that brings people in day after day. Meyer shares with us his thoughts on cuisine and this recipe for Rockfish Provencal.
How did you get your start in the culinary industry? Take us through your career a bit.
I used to live next door to a guy here in Annapolis who was a chef, back when I was an institutional mutual fund rep in the late ’90s. A couple years after we had both moved away from Annapolis—he to Virginia and me to Pittsburgh—I called him and asked if he would ever move back to Annapolis. He said in a heartbeat. So I asked him what he thought about starting or buying a seafood market or restaurant, and he told me his mother had clipped an article from The Capital just two days before, that said O’Leary’s had closed. That was November of 1997. Within days, we met in the O’Leary’s parking lot and began formulating a business plan. Six months later, we were the proud owners of our new baby, O’Leary’s Seafood Restaurant.
How often does the menu at O’Leary’’s change? What seasoned favorites are always on there?
Formally, we change the menu every spring and fall, in order to adjust to what people prefer during normally warm or cold months. In the fall, we like to switch toheavier sauces, more savory red meat options like duck and filet mignon, and sometimes spicier dishes. These, in turn, allow us to showcase some slightly more indulgent desserts as well, desserts like bread pudding. Yum. Spring-time allows us to lighten up on all of the above by moving lighter cuts of red meat or fewer options, more seasonal fresh fish offerings like rockfish, trout, walleye, all with lighter sauces with more citrus, less use of cream sauces and more fruits in our dessert offerings. Beyond those two major menu changes, we run specials all year long with an eye on finding a hit that gets to bump a laggard off the precious real estate of our regular menu. There are only two sacred items on the menu, and the crab cakes are one.
In what ways do you keep guests coming in? Is there a specific item they love or is it the friendliness of the staff? How do you get people to keep coming back?
Quick answer, Wil Peterson, General Manager. There are a lot of moving pieces that make a restaurant that locals and out-of-towners want to return to, but the welcome they receive from the staff in the front of the house is make-or-break. People are out to have a good time and we are the theater they choose. We must welcome people into our little dining room and make them feel welcome and relaxed. That’s our job; that and getting orders right and out to the guests in a timely manner. It’s as simple as hospitality, but then it’s also so much more. When we make a mistake, we own it, and then make it right. We believe that people want to be treated respectfully, and honestly. You’d be surprised how much people will forgive your mistakes if you are honest. That and resolving it very quickly. Mr. Peterson is a professional at all of this.
Where do you find your inspiration for new dishes?
We have a team approach to our menu development such that it doesn’t rely on just a single person and his/her level of creativeness. On the one hand it would be nice tohave a single person whose job it is to maintain a constantly fresh menu, but as an owner I have found that when that person leaves you may lose a part of your business also. Over the last ten years or so we have had relatively good luck coming up with ideas from almost all the staff that work here, with a core team of me, Chef Gary McGinley, and Wil. We also often rely on our customers to give us ideas they’d like to see us try.
How did this dish originate?
We wanted to offer something local, in addition to our crab cakes, and what’s more local than Rockfish? Rockfish has always played an important part in our kitchen during the season and always will.
What is your favorite ingredient?
Besides the fish itself, it would have to be the heirloom cherry tomatoes. The color alone that they add to the dish is stunning and then the flavor...well, it’s really hard to beat the flavor and brightness of an heirloom tomato.
What wine or drink pairs best?
For this I’m going to default to Wil.
“That question can be problematic, as tastes and wine preferences vary from person to person. Personally, I would recommend a couple different wines with this dish, but my first choice would be Tegernseerhof Gruner Veltliner from Austria. Yeah, it’s a mouthful, but here we call it ‘Groovy’ for short. ‘Groovy’ is great with food, especially notoriously difficult foods for wine, like asparagus and artichokes. Pure, fine, minerally nose with a subtle herbiness in the background. Good concentration on the palate with lovely fruit and a layered texture. Just trust me on this one.”
What is the most important step when cooking it?
The most important thing with the dish is being careful when removing the fish rib bones after it has been cooked. As with any whole fish, we always recommend taking a little extra time when eating.
- 6 rockfish fillets
- 3/4 cup white wine
- 1 stick butter, melted
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat baking pan with olive oil. Add white wine to pan. Place fish in pan. Drizzle melted butter over the fillets. Add salt and pepper and cover with foil. Bake for 10 minutes covered, then remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 bulb fennel
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 2 pints heirloom cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 8 oz. Kalamata olives, drained
- crushed red pepper to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in large sauté pan. Add onion and fennel, cook till transparent. Deglaze pan with wine and add garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook two minutes then add the remaining items and simmer until tomatoes are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste.