Cafe Mezzanotte Must Have Happy Chefs

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Looking for a way to woo your lover or win your crush? Take them to Cafe Mezzanotte for a romantic, sense-filling evening, inside or outside. You could also grab a carryout container and enjoy a cozy night at home with some of the best food you'll find in Anne Arundel County.

My dining companion and I made our visit to Cafe Mezzanotte on a gorgeous evening at dusk. We would have loved to have enjoyed our night outside on the patio under a white tent, with pretty hanging lights. Still, even with heaters, the 30-degree evening was a bit too nippy.

Modern and comfortable, the restaurant does an excellent job with ambiance, from the crisp white tablecloths topped with flickering candles to the sultry jazz tunes softly floating through the air. Large landscapes and lovely hanging flowers add to the romantic atmosphere. Setting one foot inside the door reassures you that you are in for a special evening. Our smiling hostess directed us to a table by the window.

The service is always excellent, but our waiter, Jesse, was really the best yet. Professional and friendly, he greeted us, took our drink orders, then returned and shared the evening's specials with perfect recall and pizzaz.

A waitress brought us homemade bread and Mezzanotte's famous dipping oil. We made a valiant effort to limit ourselves to just a few bites, but it's just too good to do that, so make sure you come hungry.

We began our meal with oysters Rockefeller and a rainbow beet salad. You can't beat Cafe Mezzanotte for presentation. The oysters on the half shell arrived warm, with a crispy, baked parmesan topping. Every bite with the oyster fork was a taste sensation – the toasted cheese combined with the taste of the oyster, spinach and bacon all enveloped with the incredible sambuca cream, delivering just a hint of sweetness.

The beet salad, like all of the restaurant's food, was just beautiful (Dwight Schrute would be proud)! There were so many goodies in that healthy salad, all offering a mix of color, texture and taste. Red and gold beets with their delicate, sweet and earthy flavor, mixed with crispy red onions and young arugula, as well as fennel crema, added a subtle and savory touch. Jerusalem artichoke chips added a tasty crunch. The salad was finished off with rosemary oil, aged balsamic and topped with sheep's milk feta, which by itself elevated the meal (if you're wondering, I'll tell you right now that grocery store feta just doesn't compare). Needless to say, it was a hit!

It was tough deciding on the entree, but my dining companion chose swordfish Portofino. I picked the scallop truca risotto. As it often happens, I preferred my companion's dish. Though the risotto was great, the swordfish was fabulous.

First, the fresh seafood smell of the piping hot swordfish Portofino wafting through the air as it was delivered to our table was a pleasant surprise. It's not too often you get to really enjoy the fragrance of the food. Caught off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey, the center cut fish, with a robust deep sea briny taste, topped a large helping of cavatelli pasta in a velvety parmesan cream sauce with apple, bacon and toasted pine nuts. This mixture was my favorite taste of the night. Sweet, cooked apples with crispy, savory bacon is certainly a combination I want to try on my own.

The risotto featured tiny pasta infused with the scallops' subtle seafood taste as well as the prosciutto, basil oil, and garlic. Tomatoes and colorful rainbow carrots gave the dish a spring freshness and added texture. This was a flavorful dish that was good at the restaurant, and I even enjoyed eating it cold the next day. The flavors were even more robust since it sat overnight.

OK – the best part of the whole night? You guessed it — the dessert (if you have read my reviews before, you are probably aware of my overwhelming sweet tooth that so often sabotages my healthy efforts). We chose the special: a "semifreddo candy bar" that Jesse sold us by his enthusiasm and eye rolling. Larger than I anticipated, this decadent frozen treat featured espresso cream on the inside (which would be amazing just by itself), topped with rich chocolate and a scattering of pecans, and was drizzled with caramel.

The cost of two appetizers, two entrees and one dessert, without drinks, was about $90 – and worth every penny.

The restaurant’s cozy lounge offers a happy hour menu that will put a smile on your face, and it has a full bar, featuring an extensive wine list, and a menu featuring lobster wrappers, lobster lasagna, pizza and pasta bowls.

If you're still seeking to justify a special night out, note that Cafe Mezzanotte strives to provide locally sourced and sustainably grown (or raised) ingredients.

Check out the specials online – Monday lobster night; $10 pasta bowls on Wednesdays, half-price wine on Tuesdays, and takeout specials. There are also some appealing takeout dinner or brunch boxes that will please your paramour. Visit www.cafemezzanote.com for details and to make a reservation.

Chatting with Jesse, I said the chef and cooks must have a fun time crafting their various unique dishes.

Jesse said, "Oh, they have a blast!" They love taking the ingredients they have and coming up with new dishes. I believe that. I read that food reflects a chef's mood – and so, they should be joyous and the food cooked with love. True? I don't know. Some folks think so, but if so, Mezzanotte chefs are happy people and so are their customers.

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