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 for reservations.


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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