An Italian Dream
Nov 07, 2014 02:00PM ● Published by Arden Haley
760 Ritchie Highway
By Diana Jeffra // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
Café Mezzanotte is an authentic Italian restaurant with Maryland flare. The atmosphere is inviting with a large formal dining room and a separate lounge for a casual setting. We had dinner in the formal dining room. The atmosphere was classic with dim lighting, lots of space, marble statues, and scenic Italian wall paintings. There are areas of seating that are slightly raised, giving the room different levels, and mimicking the terraced scenic paintings of coastal Italy. The Maryland touch is evident in the Cream of Crab Soup ($7 cup), Oysters Rockefeller ($14), and other classic state dishes tucked into the rest of the Italian menu. Our server, Tony, was very pleasant and enthusiastic. He was welcoming and had great suggestions and a thorough knowledge of the menu. Tony guided us through the lengthy menu and helped pick dishes to our liking.
Starting with appetizers we decided on the Mozzarella Caprese ($10) and the Beef Carpaccio ($14). Served on a square plate, the Mozzarella Caprese had three large slices of tomato, topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, and a balsamic reduction. The mozzarella was amazingly creamy and soft, with a simple briny flavor. The basil smelled amazing and added a hint of sweetness that only fresh picked herbs can deliver. The balsamic reduction had a perfect texture and flavor. The vinegar was reduced to a classic syrupy consistency, enough to lose its super tangy bite while maintaining its distinguishing flavor.
The Beef Carpaccio arrived on an oblong plate; a large enough portion to share. As usual for this dish, the beef was sliced extremely thin. It had a drizzle of high quality olive oil and a smattering of capers and olives that added an excellent level of saltiness to this dish. There were also a nice heap of mixed greens and some wedges of bread that added a contrasting crunch to the super soft beef.
For entrees it was a very difficult decision, because everything sounds so good, but we settled on the Scallops Portofino ($24) and the Lobster Diavola ($34). The Scallops Portofino is one of the restaurant top sellers and I can see why. The dish was composed of fresh, large, seared sea scallops atop penne pasta with smoked bacon, slices of cooked apple, and spinach, all tied together in a Parmesan cream sauce. The first bite of this dish had an amazing smoked bacon flavor. The apple was a welcome surprise to this dish. It worked very well with the bacon and Parmesan flavors. I was skeptical at first because of the scallops, but it all came together to make a wonderfully rich dish. The penne was an excellent choice of pasta, as it lent great texture and was the right cut to hold the sauce.
Lobster Diavola translates to lobster devil, which is a fitting name for this spicy dish. The pasta was a linguine infused with squid ink that makes it black. The squid ink pasta was served with a spicy cherry tomato marinara and chopped shrimp all topped with a large lobster tail. The spicy tomato was really bright in color and very intense in flavor. The squid ink pasta adds an aura of intrigue to this dish. The squid ink doesn’t seem to add any kind of flavor, it just seems to add color. The lobster was cooked to perfection. The assembly and presentation of this dish gives it some serious appeal.
Ending the meal, we could not resist dessert and coffee. My date is a bit of a chocolate cake fanatic, so we picked the Chocolate Fondant ($8). We also ordered a Cannoli ($7). The chocolate fondant was a chocolate layer cake with chocolate ganache. This is definitely a chocolate cake for serious chocolate lovers. The cake was moist and drenched with the super silky chocolate ganache, topped with an amazingly fresh strawberry. The cannoli was exceptionally delicious. It was a generously sized shell with sweet creamy filling and chocolate shavings, also topped with a fresh strawberry. The sweetness of the cannoli was a perfect match with an espresso to finish out the evening.
Eastern Shore native, Diana Jeffra is a professional chef and aspiring food stylist. Her background in graphic design and her culinary degree from the Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute have led her to begin work on her first cookbook. Past adventures have led her to culinary competitions and a summer cooking in Italy.