Restaurant Review: Carpaccio Tuscan Kitchen
Dec 10, 2015 09:00AM
● By Cate Reynolds
Dining à la ItalianBy Mary Lou Baker // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr.
Like the Bellini, the birthplace of beef carpaccio was at Harry’s Bar in Venice, when owner Giuseppe Cipriani named an hors d’oeuvre of thinly-sliced raw tenderloin in honor of Vittore Carpaccio, a Venetian artist known for his fondness of red and white (colors, not wine).
You may sample a version of it right here in Annapolis at the popular Carpaccio Tuscan Kitchen, located near the entrance to the Westin Hotel and the upscale condominiums at One Park Place on Westgate Circle. You may also sample a stunning variety of Italian dishes; an ambitious menu that includes excellent brick-oven pizza as well as pastas, several kinds of risotto, seafood, beef, veal, chicken, lamb and carpaccio-style preparations of eggplant and sushi-grade tuna. Carpaccio’s menu is so broad and appealing it qualifies as “an embarrassment of riches.”
This authentic Italian eatery changes personalities with the seasons. We love Carpaccio when the weather is fine enough to enjoy the “water view” of the magnificent fountain that centers the outdoor dining terrace. It is a magical setting for all ages, where children tease their fingers with a quick dip in the gurgling waters, couples linger at tables for two, and adults shed stress in a setting reminiscent of an Italian trattoria. There are no outdoor heating units, so come late fall and winter the action is all indoors, where a thoughtful décor creates a cozy setting at booths and tables in a section separated from the spacious main dining room, accented with an open kitchen.
The separate wine bar attracts those seeking to sample from the restaurant’s well-chosen roster of 38 wines-by-the-glass ($8–14), heavily weighted to Italian but including representatives from California, France, and New Zealand. For professional advice about Carpaccio’s wine list, I suggest asking resident oenophile Nick for inside info on what else his cellar holds.
We prefaced a dinner for three with glasses of the house Santori pinot grigio, a good sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, and a vodka tonic. While awaiting the aperitifs, the server brought Carpaccio’s special treat—a bread basket of delicious pizza-like oblongs of dough slathered with a piquant tomato sauce, served warm. They are tasty introductions to a menu created by Chef Ernesto, whose Mexican mother taught him how to “cook Italian.” He has been in Carpaccio’s kitchen for seven years, making friends along the way. “Nothing comes frozen to my kitchen,” says Ernesto, an inventive cook with a passion for seafood as well as sauces. “Everything is fresh, from the fish to the herbs and vegetables,” he says proudly.
His creative streak was evident in a “surprise” appetizer called Orangina Vesuviana—a pair of plump spheres of tomato-infused rice that resembled red tennis balls. Crisp on the outside, they were centered with spicy roasted peppers and a creamy blend of mascarpone and fontina cheeses. Biting into the crisp exterior and discovering the velvety inside reminded me of eating fancy Fanny Farmer Easter eggs as a child.
Another treat was Carpaccio’s colorful version of bruschetta—chopped tomatoes, organic baby arugula, and shavings of parmesan bedded on toasted Italian bread and drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar. Our third appetizer of broiled calamari arrived in a shallow bath of garlicy butter sauce that shouted for bread to mop up the delicious liquid. For those with small appetites and a wish to explore the menu, there are plenty of chances to dine well on appetizers alone. I applaud the restaurant’s labeling of selections as mezza (small) or Grande (large), with prices reflecting their size.
For instance, diners can sample Carpaccio’s stellar eggplant parmigiana appetizer (featuring wafer-thin slices of the vegetable, layered with cheeses and tomato sauce) for $6.99 as a mezza and pair it with the chef’s delectable version of Oysters Rockefeller (featuring a Sambuca-infused spinach cream sauce topped with smoky bacon bits and parmesan cheese) as a mezza for $7.99.
The only downside of dining at Carpaccio’s is the daunting task of choosing from its extensive selection of classic Italian favorites that often bear the chef’s signature.
On review night, I ordered Salmon Casino when our server described it as the restaurant’s “signature dish.” A thick slab of broiled Norwegian salmon (no farm-raised here) was layered with parmesan cheese, bacon nibs, fire-roasted red peppers, and presented on a pillow of creamy Arborio rice made with crab bisque. Divine. Branzino is a Mediterranean fish seldom seen on area menus but emerging as a popular sustainable choice because of its firm but moist flesh and its affinity for sauces. Chef Ernesto likes it so much it appears twice on his menu—one version grilled and simply dressed with a drizzle of lemon-flavored extra virgin olive oil enlivened with fresh rosemary and bedded on piquant relish of escarole, mixed olives, and walnuts. Delicious, unique and heart-healthy. The other preparation features a sauté with capers, olives, roasted tomatoes, and Tuscan potatoes.
Our third entrée was a dish called Pollo Carpariello, a peasant-style preparation that translates into “shoemaker’s chicken.” Chef Ernesto does his own version, dressing it up with caramelized pearl onions, wild mushrooms, and potato chunks in a Marsala wine sauce flecked with fresh rosemary, a sprig of which decorates this creative rendition of a hearty classic.
Despite being sated with appetizers and entrées, we couldn’t resist sharing two sweets from Carpaccio’s short but appealing list of desserts. A gently-flavored house-made almond cake was crowned with toasted nuts in a streusel topping, paired per request with a scoop of house-made vanilla gelato. Lemincello cake lived up to its promise, featuring layers of custard and raspberry sauce to accent its citrusy personality.
Italian-born Gennaro Di Meo, is the primary of Monte Restaurant Development Group, which includes the upscale Carpaccio, as well as fast-casual Squisito eateries (with nine locations in Anne Arundel County), Four Seasons in Gambrills, and Meatballs in Glen Burnie. He can be proud of his contribution to the area’s options for dining à la Italian—especially his Tuscan kitchen in Annapolis.
Mary Lou Baker is a frequent contributor to What’s Up? Media publications and self-professed gourmand. She has authored numerous culinary articles and recently penned the book Seafood Lover’s Chesapeake Bay: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions.