Annapolis' favorite French bistro, Cafe Normandie, is so warm and cozy and full of people having a good time that no one seems to notice how erratic the food is. But then at these prices, even a hardened food critic can afford to be forgiving.
If you like cozy, you'll love the lace curtains, the beamed ceiling, the pretty little bar in front, the center fireplace, the snug booths.
If you like friendly, you'll enjoy the warm-hearted staff and the good-natured customers crowded in front waiting for a table.
If you like cheap, you'll make a dinner on the chicken and mushroom crepe and a small salad for $8.25. Or the charcuterie plate ($6.50) and bread ($1 extra) with a glass of wine or a beer. This includes a couple of kinds of European sausages; a delicious, rough-textured pate made on the premises; and a suave duck-liver mousse. All on enough lettuce with grated carrots to qualify as a salad.
Not quite enough for a meal? Add a bowl of smooth tomato bisque with lump crab meat. Or have a salad with the cafe's delicious blackened shrimp on top.
For those who want more than bistro food, Cafe Normandie had a chef's special for $22.95 the night we were there, which included a filet mignon, a small fillet of salmon, a fat little crab cake -- almost all lump crab meat -- and some shrimp. Pretty impressive. Too bad the salmon had a blueberry sauce better suited for cheesecake; the rest of it was quite good.
Then things started to go downhill. Beef burgundy over linguine was a generous, full-flavored meal for $14.75. But as the waitress pointed out when she placed the dish on the table, the kitchen had made a mistake and put the stew over rice instead of the promised homemade pasta.
Veal portobello with a dark, intense sauce was simply a bad idea. The mushrooms and sauce overwhelmed the meat. A crepe Annapolis filled with sea scallops, bits of shrimp, mushrooms and a thick lobster sauce was too heavy for my taste.
Crepes are supposedly a house specialty, but I wasn't any happier with a crepe aux fraises for dessert than I was with the entree crepe. The pancake itself was fine, but the filling consisted of mounds of whipped cream with only four strawberries.
The kitchen got back on track with profiteroles au chocolat -- tender little cream puffs filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. But the piece de resistance was a slice of freshly baked tarte Tatin, with tender, short pastry and warm caramelized apples. Eat this and die happy.
Where: 185 Main St., Annapolis
Hours: Open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Prices: Appetizers, $3.75-$8.75; entrees, $7.25-$22.95; major credit cards
Pub Date: 2/08/98