Carrol's Creek: unrealized potential Restaurant: The menu showed great promise, as did the lovely Annapolis waterfront location, but the meal missed the mark.

October 19, 1997|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Carrol's Creek has the potential to be that Holy Grail for visitors to a waterfront town, a great seafood restaurant.

It's got all the ingredients, starting with a fine location right on the water. Every seat in the main dining room has a scenic view of Spa Creek. (Once known as Charles Carroll's creek, but spelled with one "l" on an 18th-century map. Hence the name.)

The menu isn't long, but it has a good balance of local seafood dishes and more exotic ones. The fish is beautifully fresh, the kitchen's New American creations imaginative without crossing the line into strange. A thoughtful wine list complements the mostly seafood menu, with a long list of bottles priced at $17 and many regional wines by the glass.

The dining room, next to the large bar, is quite casual. But at night the lights are romantically low, fresh flowers grace each highly polished wood table, the wineglasses gleam. The setting feels pleasantly formal, without any of the stuffiness of formality.

Alas, our meal subtly -- and not so subtly -- missed the mark. Take the Maryland cream of crab soup, recently lauded in the pages of Bon Appetit. It had a wonderful flavor and nice lumps of crab, but it was so thick it was like eating a bowl of cream gravy.

We ordered three different fish prepared three different ways -- rockfish, swordfish and red snapper. All were straight-from-the-water fresh. All were so overcooked they were quite dry. Sad, because each was potentially so good and presented so beautifully. The red snapper, for instance, had a lovely sweet red pepper coulis and delicious couscous. The swordfish's olive, mushroom and artichoke salad contrasted pleasingly with fragrant basmati rice. Perfectly cooked julienne vegetables and a delicate butter sauce complemented the rockfish.

A crab cake platter was disappointing as well, although I loved its fennel-scented braised cabbage. The two small, perfectly seasoned crab cakes rested on fried polenta, crisp on the outside, hot and soft inside. Excellent. But for $23.95, you expect lumps of crab in your crab cakes.

Only with the house specialty, Texas barbecued shrimp, did the kitchen really strut its stuff. This was the yin and yang of first courses: One side of the plate was painted in a curve with a dark, intense barbecue sauce. Fat pink shrimp wrapped in char-grilled bacon were placed on top. The other side was filled in with pale green cucumber salad. The tangy sweetness of the barbecue shrimp was heightened by the vinegariness of the sliced cucumbers.

Salads, too, pleased us. Our waitress tossed a classic Caesar salad for two at the table. Yes, they use pasteurized eggs here, along with all the traditional ingredients like fresh garlic, anchovies, lots of Parmesan cheese, lemon juice and a bit of anchovy mashed in with the garlic. The house salad is a trendy (but not too trendy to be good) combination of fresh mixed greens, walnuts, blue cheese and dried cranberries.

Desserts aren't made on the premises, but there's plenty on the dessert cart to appeal to your sweet tooth, most notably an old-fashioned, moist carrot cake with luscious cream cheese frosting and juicy bits of pineapple. Although your waiter or waitress may not mention it to you (ours didn't), a fruit and cheese platter and a bowl of fresh fruit are also available.

Carrol's Creek

Where: 410 Severn Ave., Eastport, Annapolis

Hours: Open every day for lunch and dinner, brunch Sunday

Prices: Appetizers, $3.95-$8.95; entrees, $13.95-$23.95; major credit cards

Call: 410-263-8102

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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