Bay Weekly’s Dining Guide

It’s sure to fill you up

This is a very hungry week.    
    Thinking about restaurants, talking to chefs and owners and reading menus makes me want to eat my way through Bay Weekly’s annual Dining Guide.
    Not that I haven’t already had more than a few bites. With breakfast, lunch and dinner samples, I’ve been in training for Restaurant Week, which comes to Annapolis at the end of February.
    But one good bite deserves another.
    Breakfast at Metropolitan makes me want more breakfasts at Metropolitan, so I can try all the food and drink I couldn’t eat the first time.
    The two dishes I’ve had at Sin Fronteras Cafe are not nearly enough to satisfy my appetite or my curiousity. Nor are the dozens I’ve had at Jalapeños, for I’m salivating over Gonzalo Fernandez’s recipe for scallops in saffron cream.
    How can I go another day without trying Chef James Barrett’s chicken and gnocchi dumplings at the Westin’s Azure? Or beef tenderloin tartar over arugula at The Old Stein? Or Rod ’n’ Reel’s Atlantic flounder stuffed with crab imperial?
    I’m planning ahead for February, too. As soon as Basmati opens, I’ll be there. I’m starting with homemade cottage cheese cubes fried in chickpea batter and served with chutney.
    And on February 12, I’ll be breakfasting on red velvet pancakes at Honey’s Harvest in Rose Haven.
    Annapolis Restaurant Week from February 20 thru 26 opens doors, over 40 in all.
    Reading a menu is a slippery slope.
    The imagination of food is so satisfying, scientists say, that the best way to diet is to dine on imagination before you sit down to a meal. The very thought of food begins to fill you up.
    Maybe.
    Because for all we love the good taste of food, it’s more than taste.
    “Food is love and love is fun,” Jack Batten, owner and executive chef at DiGiovanni’s in Solomons, told me.
    My thinking exactly.
    Food was love in my family, both at home and in our family restaurant, The Stymie Club, which flourished in 1950s’ St. Louis. Balanced both ways, I inherited my mother’s love of cooking. I’ve just hit a personal best with the giant pork chop My Butcher and More Mike Smollon cut for me.
    But I’ve also inherited my father’s love of being fed well and effortlessly.
    So I’m all for Batten’s advice to go out to dinner — lest food, or cooking, become a burden.
    His new menu has me headed for Solomons. Italian winter foods, coming in February, is a thrilling concept to an Olivetti granddaughter. I would, if I could, eat all four lasagnas in one night. So I sure hope he offers a mixed plate.
    Those are only a few points on the compass of Bay Weekly’s 2012 Dining Guide. I intend to encompass the whole thing.
    See you at a restaurant, as I have no doubt you’re getting hungry.

Farewell and a Few Hales

    Opening a restaurant is as common a dream as writing a book — and a lot harder. Ambition, love, hope, nostalgia and family recipes are poured into each new restaurant, especially ones that are owned by people like you and me instead of corporate chains.
    So when a restaurant closes — and Tim Zagat of Zagat restaurant surveys says that 60 percent will survive less than three years — it’s a sad ending to a dream.
    John Kozik is upbeat about ending his lease on Skipper’s Pier in Deale. “We enjoyed being here,” he says, noting that Skipper’s will continue and so will he, on separate paths. But, he says, “it takes three to five years to really get going, so you hate to lose that momentum.”
    As customers, you and I also hate to lose connections we’ve nourished. Maybe we’ll love the new places, but that’s a future still to be made.
    We’re losing another old connection in North Beach, where Thursday’s Bar & Grill is ending the lease it’s held since 1998. Thursday’s Steak & Crab House, opened in Galesville in 2004 remains. Thursday’s Bar & Grill will reappear this spring at the Paris Oaks Shopping Center in Owings.
    Thursday’s North Beach space will no doubt be filled, too, giving us more new acquaintances to work into our lives.
    At other times, a lost lease leaves a void. Fabulous Brew began in Deale as a coffeehouse and thrived as a restaurant serving three meals in Friendship. It no longer exists, and its Friendship location remains empty. A lease dispute also ended the life of its pleasant Deale replacement, Java Stop.
    Shopping centers see their changes, too. At the Annapolis Mall, both Austin Grill and McCormick and Schmick’s are gone. Annapolis Towne Centre at Parole lost Real Seafood.
    Those holes will no doubt be filled. Everybody wants to start a restaurant — and at least four out of 10 will flourish.