A Creative Kitchen
If your name includes "seafood,"
the dining public of the
Chesapeake area expects something extra special.
O'Learys Seafood Restaurant, owned by partners Paul Meyer and
chef Charlie Bauer, opened in the fall of 1998 on Restaurant Row
on Severn Avenue in Eastport. Named O'Learys by a previous owner
in 1983, the new owners chose to prepare and serve dinners only---their
way to capture the time needed to prepare the level of food they
seek. As chef Charlie says, "If we don't improve each day, we're
not moving forward."
Lucky enough to talk with Dale Lyons when making dinner reservations
during the set-up for the Sailboat Show, I had trepidations that
we would not be accommodated during such a busy time. She said
she'd find a way and squeezed us in. We found a full house and,
before we were seated, had time for only a taste of our wine selection,
a bottle of Hogue's "Genesis" chardonnay from the Columbia Valley
in California. We were at the standup bar (it's a relatively small
space, so no room for stools) that separates the two modest-sized
dining rooms. The wine was a good choice with medium body and
layers of oak flavor.
Seating a total of 76 diners, O'Learys welcomes guests with jewel
tones, ochre on the walls, burgundy diamond-pattern carpet and
cobalt blue cylinders that hold bold candles on a pewter stem
and base. The Dermott Hickey collection of black and white photographs
depicting the beautiful and diverse architecture and vistas of
our unparalleled historic city sit beside the multipaned windows
just a stone's throw from Spa Creek. When you visit, don't miss
the fisheye mirror opposite the bar.
That day's appetizer menu offered a choice among 11 diverse seafood
temptations and, for the carnivorous, a grilled Merguez lamb sausage
with orzo, roasted tomatoes, pine nuts and goat cheese. I selected
the "special" crab cake appetizer that proved to be a generous
ball of jumbo lump blue crab meat, with a light binder and hints
of gentle herbs. My ally in food adventures chose the fried oysters
dusted in corn flour, fried crisp, and served with chili and black
bean sauces and spicy cucumber salad, an altogether outstanding
combination that he described as "something succulent and crunchy
to bite into."
I also sampled the "Gravad Lax Timbale," an extraordinary dish.
Molded in a cup or timbale, the center is hot, smoked char surrounded
by cured salmon and topped with American black caviar encircled
by dill crème fraiche and American red keta caviar garnish. If
you fancy gravlax and caviar, it's first in its class.
For the entree, I elected the New Zealand blue nose sea bass (like
butter fish), baked with gremolata crust, lemon beurre blanc,
creamy potatoes and haricots verts. True to the prior selections,
the elements of this plate were all cooked to perfection. It is
an interesting tradition at O'Learys that fresh seafood received
on a daily basis can be prepared to your selection. I requested
a simple preparation for the sea bass and our server Dan Burks
recommended the baked choice out of six possibilities on the menu.
This is fun to select.
The sometime meat-and-potatoes man ordered the center cut filet
mignon, a 10-ounce. "Red Oak Ranch" fillet grilled and served
with maison butter, smashed potatoes, roasted tomatoes, shallots
and haricots verts. His comment was, "That was delicious and soon
I'll save up room to order the coffee crusted rib eye steak."
That is 18 ounces of prime rib eye steak given a dry rub of coffee,
brown sugar, salt, garlic, cumin and chipotle and pasilla chilies,
seared in a cast iron skillet and served with black beans and
rice and crispy Vidalia onions.
On a return visit, I could not resist the sautéed Gulf shrimp
served with Parmesan cheese grits, sweet potato chips, garlic
beurre blanc and roasted red chili hot sauce. The shrimp were
juicy, the grits good enough to make one a southern convert, the
sweet potato chips tall and tasty and the sauce spicy.
Dan recommended the strawberry shortcake, the favorite dessert.
It was a mountain of cake, huge strawberries and tart raspberries.
Your waiter will recommend desserts of the day.
Remember, O'Learys serves dinner only, but seven days a week.
If you are hopeful to find one of the mentioned dishes, don't
be disappointed if you can't find it. Chef Charlie is creative
and regularly invents new combinations. And it is wise to call