Summertime is high season for outdoor dining, shaded by an umbrella table and cooled by occasional breezes. A prime candidate in Annapolis is Carpaccio Tuscan Kitchen and Wine Bar's spectacular outdoor terrace, centered with a dramatic working fountain whose waters collect in a sparkling pond. This setting, overlooking upper West Street on a terrace next to the Westin Hotel, is a prime place to enjoy classic Italian food and wine in a singularly beautiful setting.
In case of rain, extreme heat or no available outdoor tables, head inside to discover two well-appointed dining areas and a wine bar, overseen by a knowledgeable and approachable bar manager, John Koryak. Koryak, who was a fixture at Lewnes for seven years, has deep product knowledge of the Carpaccio's impressive wine cellar, the artisan cocktails he mixes with flair, and the news chosen to please Carpaccio's diverse clientele.
Ironically, I first heard about Carpaccio's excellent wine library from a certified sommelier who plies his trade at another well-regarded establishment in town. “Forget the food,” he joked. “Go for the wine.” In truth, leisurely time spent with Koryak can be a valuable education in the world of the grape. Koryak serves as a personal advisor to those who patronize his place because of its classic Tuscan specialties and stands ready to suggest wine pairings that enhance everything from pasta to meat and seafood classics prepared in the kitchen under the direction of longtime Chef Ernesto Ventura.
Tuscany is the primary region of origin for most of the wines. There are about 40 red and white wines-by-the-glass, with a sprinkling of other regions and countries to round out choices that range from $7-15. Various high-end labels from Italy, as well as popular and boutique vineyards from California, France, New Zealand, and Germany, round out an extraordinary selection in a long range of categories and price points, which range from the low 30s to the low hundreds in the Cellar Selections section. Let Koryak be your guide as you tiptoe through Carpaccio's honor roll of world-class reds and whites.
One of the many endearing things about this place is the attentive service that begins with a presentation of a basket of oblong slices of “tomato pie” and what I call pizza. If you're lucky, they will be warm and soon gone, unless you limit yourself to enjoy one of the restaurant's many appealing antipasti,available in small (mezza) or large (grande) portions. On one visit, a friend and I shamelessly sucked on the creamy spinach sauce spiked with Sambuca and flecked with bacon that graced the four Oysters Rockefeller ($9.99). We shared that starter, as well as a trio of golf-ball-sized Meatballs Mediterranean ($5.99) slathered with the kitchen’s savory red sauce, paired with toasted crostini and garnished with fresh basil leaves—just another pretty plate.
While this restaurant sends some of the more beautiful plates to its patron's tables, perhaps the prettiest of them all is Carpaccio Di Tonno, featuring pale pink rounds of sushi-grade tuna arranged like flower petals and garnished with slivers of avocado. A spray of mesclun greens moistened with a lemony vinaigrette ($13.99) centered the artistic arrangement, which resembled a still-life painting. Calamari fans may choose between a grilled or fried preparation—the former a tangle of white rounds garnished with corn relish ($10.99) to complement the freshness of the seafood and the other producing a crispy finish ($9.99). Add one of the restaurant's creative salads to the tuna or filet mignon carpaccio-style starters for a satisfying summer meal.
There are many options for authentic Italian main courses. The kitchen uses DiCecco pasta and cheeses, which are flown in fresh from Italy every week, sources other ingredients locally, and stays an east with compatible culinary trends. Carpaccio was in the forefront of the risotto craze, using the slow-cooked Arborio rice as a canvas for Risotto Pescatrice ($18.99), featuring clams, calamari, mussels, and prawns; Risotto Al Funghi Porcini, imported Italian mushrooms spiked with white truffle olive oil; and Risotto Con Carne, a hearty blend of meats (filet tips and pancetta) with carrots, asparagus tops, caramelized onions, and mascarpone cheese. Take your pick and prepare to be pleased.
This is the place to find onzini, a popular Mediterranean fish that is a staple on Carpaccio's menu. Perfectly grilled, flavored with a blend of herbs, and finished with a sprightly mix of olives, walnuts, and escarole greens—this recipe is all about good taste ($18.99). A recommendation for vegetarians and other health-conscious eaters is Fettucine Primavera—a combination of artichoke hearts, mushrooms, roasted peppers, and spinach on a bed of silky pasta, colored with a creamy rose sauce ($13.99). “Divine,” pronounced my companion, a friend revered for her skills in the kitchen that reflect her Italian heritage.
Other recommendations from my multiple visits to Carpaccio, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this past spring, are Linguini Michelangelo, starring mussels, calamari, and manila clams, and baby arugula in a subtle wine sauce; a delicate eggplant parmesan as an appetizer or main course; and Vitello Annapolis, thinly sliced veal married with mushrooms in a rose wine sauce on top of fettuccine–the dish garnished (in season) with lumps of Maryland crabmeat. I also really liked Carpaccio's deluxe pizzas, arguably the best around, particularly its delicious thin-crusted Margherita. Pizzas ($12.99 - $22.99) and everything else on Carpaccio's menu may be ordered at the restaurant's carry-out shop next door.
How about dessert? I suggest Carpaccio's distinctive tiramisu. And we heartily recommend having wine as a complement to your dinner. Don't be shy about asking your waiter (or Koryak) for wine recommendations. “Life's too short to drink bad wine” and Carpaccio stocks only the good stuff.