Appetizers, desserts outshine entrees


September 27, 2001|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

RIGHT PLACE, wrong meal.

That was our take on 49 West, a coffeehouse/wine bar/gallery on West Street in Annapolis that does well in each of those roles, but exceeds its grasp at dinner.

On previous, unofficial lunchtime visits to this cozy, 19th-century storefront, we've had nothing but good food served in two rooms filled with paintings and books. But on the visit for this review, we ordered from the side of the menu available only after 6 p.m. and were disappointed to find that the quality was not the same.

The better of two entrees was the honey garlic pork, which consisted of two reasonably sized chops with a tangy glaze. They came with two sides -- tasteless couscous and an equally tasteless serving of whole mushrooms. The sides also accompanied the rosemary lime chicken -- two dried-out boneless breasts that bore only the slightest hint of rosemary.

The excellent appetizers had given us no hint of the disappointing main courses to come. A wheel of warmed brie that came with a sliced baguette, crackers, grapes and slices of green apples appealed to both the eye and palate. So did the spicy black bean dip, served hot in a small white casserole dish with wedges of warm pita, carrots and celery sticks.

The restaurant's house salad is prettier than most, a small plate piled with crispy romaine lettuce, shredded carrots and a spray of sprouts. Both the orange-ginger and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette dressings tasted as good as they sounded and drew out the flavor of the vegetables without overwhelming them.

49 West's wine list deserves applause for its organization and the variety of offerings (26 by the glass). The list is broken down into three groups, based on price. Within each group, wines are arranged from lightest to most full-bodied. In addition to selecting vintages from France, California and Italy, owner Brian Cahalan likes to include a few offbeat choices from countries not well known here for their wines, such as Portugal and Tunisia. He also changes the list a few times a year.

If wine is not your drink, no problem. 49 West has a full bar offering about 15 kinds of beer and an array of coffees. Of the latter, the vanilla latte was uncommonly good.

The dessert course at 49 West is a tough one to skip, because the choices are on display in a glass case that's in the middle of the dining room. We chose a beautiful-looking thing called Paris Brest, a Key lime mousse pie and a cherry pie (the only one of the three that was baked in house). The Paris Brest was the best by far -- hazelnut butter cream in a pastry shell served on a bed of glossy chocolate ganache. The cherry pie was passable, while the Key lime mousse pie possessed nary a hint of lime.

We walked out into the night underwhelmed by dinner at 49 West. But, our memories of delicious foods served at lunch -- broccoli-Cheddar quiche, Boca burger, turkey sandwich with smoked Gouda cheese, cheese-and-pate plate and hot crab dip -- were more than enough to persuade us that we'd be back.

49 West

49 West St., Annapolis 410-626-9796

Open: For breakfast, lunch and dinner daily

Credit cards: AE, DC, MC, V

Prices: Appetizers $4.95 to $9.25; entrees $6.75 to $16.95

Food: **

Service: ***

Atmosphere: ***

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