Menu changes go upscale with a pleasing complexity Restaurant: Michaelangelo in Annapolis combines flavors and textures in foods from Northern Italy, France, Spain and America.

June 14, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN RESTAURANT CRITIC

Nothing is simple at Michaelangelo, the restaurant where Scirocco Mediterranean Grill used to be; and for the most part that's fine.

From the Mediterranean decor to the food on your plate, a lot is happening here. That's not surprising, I suppose, when the cuisine is a combination of Northern Italian, French, Spanish and American.

A steak isn't just a steak. It's a charred filet mignon with herbed potato salad, bacon, scallions and "a natural sauce." But it sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

The only soup regularly on the menu is a puree of cranberry bean with "crispy" prosciutto. Ravioli are asparagus ravioli with a light white truffle mascarpone cream sauce. Those who used to come to Scirocco for the pizza must be a little bemused by all this.

The dining room, with its open kitchen, looks much the same under the new regime. The decor is heavily Mediterranean, including wrought iron, stucco, terra-cotta tiles and pillar candles. One new addition is the bold abstract paintings, which contrast oddly with the rest of the room.

These days when restaurants change their menus, it's usually to add more casual food. Not so at Ristorante Michaelangelo, where the owners have upscaled the menu. The wine list reflects the new seriousness of the kitchen, including a fine selection of wines by the glass.

Executive chef David Myles is creating appetizers like house-smoked duck breast over a bed of warm wilted greens and dried cranberries with a garnish of crisply fried threads made from beets. Odd as it sounded, the smoke and tang of the flavors and the contrast of textures were very appealing.

I also liked the soup of the day, a smooth, thick acorn-squash puree with pieces of duck confit at its center. Equally good were grilled portobello mushrooms, meaty and slightly charred, with Gorgonzola cheese, pine nuts and a balsamic vinegar reduction - bold flavors that worked well together.

Among the seafood entrees, Ristorante Michaelangelo has a couple of traditional Spanish dishes, paella and zarzuela de mariscos; but our waiter steered us to the fish of the day, an enormous fillet of salmon, fresh and moist, over a potato, mushroom and tomato hash. More of those crispy beets decorated it.

You could get away with a relatively inexpensive pasta dish like tortelloni (a larger version of tortellini) filled with smoked mozzarella and enhanced with a fresh tomato sauce. Or you could splurge and have four tender rack-of-lamb chops, pink and juicy, with an herb crust and a tomato and onion sauce sparked with fresh mint. Flanking them were mashed potatoes made green with the addition of fresh basil. As if there weren't enough herbs already, the plate was decorated with a sprig of rosemary.

Desserts include a good tiramisu and Michaelangelo's answer to Key lime pie, a lemon torta. But the star of the show was a frozen, crunchy-smooth concoction of chocolate mousse and hazelnut crust.

MICHAELANGELO

Food: ***

Service: ***

Atmosphere: **1/2

Where: 2552 Riva Road, Annapolis

Hours: Open for lunch Monday through Friday, for dinner nightly

Prices: Appetizers, $4.50-$8.50; main courses, $13-$22; major credit cards

Call: 410-573-0970

Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair: **; Poor: *

Pub Date: 6/14/98

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