Bold claim incoming... Tuscan Prime might be the best overall restaurant in Annapolis. Excellent food (including dessert). Stellar service. Amazing atmosphere. And unique touches you won't find anywhere else. It's the total package.
If you read our first review, you may remember I was critical, but encouraging. I said they had a long way to go but I knew they'd get there. Spoiler alert: they got there.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. The importance of atmosphere in a restaurant cannot be overstated. It's every customer's first impression. And Tuscan Prime crushed it. Your first greeting is the gorgeous neon sign above that reads Ciao Bella—Italian for Hello Beautiful. Need a hot new pic for Instagram? I suggest the Ciao Bella sign.
Elsewhere, there's a petrified olive tree, silly bathroom signs, soaring ceilings, a huge bar built to look like a bookshelf, and a cozy lounge area that would be a great place to wait for a table on a busy night. With a drink of course. If I could only use one word to describe Tuscan Prime's vibe, I'd call it sexy. Annapolis needs more sexy.
One great thing about a well-established group opening a new spot is their talent pool. On my first visit, I was stoked to see one of my favorite servers from Carpaccio (owned by the same group as Tuscan Prime), Eylín. She even remembered my name. I'd like to think that's from my loyal patronage of Carpaccio. But it just as easily could have been from the name card the hostess printed from my reservation—which is a nice touch. Either way, it was awesome. As Dale Carnegie says, a person's name is the sweetest, most important sound to them in any language.
The great service continued. We weren't seated under the tree but I'd seen it in pictures and it was even better in person. So I wanted to be. There was an empty table so I asked Eylîn if we could move. She was happy to oblige.
Before long the general manager, Tim, stopped by to check in. Shortly after him, Michele (one half of the husband/wife ownership team) did the same. They each returned several times and answered many questions. And we never wanted for food or drinks.
For an established restaurant, the service was excellent. For a brand new restaurant, it was flawless.
UPDATE: I went back grand opening night. It was a packed house but our servers still went above and beyond. I've been back since and can confirm Tuscan Prime has out of this world service in its DNA.
Here's the menu. One page with a wine list on the back. You'll also get a regular cocktail menu, dessert cocktail menu, and dessert menu. Tuscan Prime's always evolving so your menu might have new stuff. Lucky you.
Three trips to Tuscan Prime later, I feel like I have a handle on their cocktail competency. And it's high. I've tried specialty cocktails like Prime Please, Roses are Red, Please Don't Tell, and the Smoking Man. All excellent, superbly creative, and visually stunning. I can't wait to work through the rest of the menu. You can't go wrong with the classics either. Their old fashioned is among the best in town. My last gin and tonic was fantastic.
Bonus: this is technically out of order because it's a dessert cocktail but I'm writing about it here for congruency's sake. There are precious few places I trust for an espresso martini in Annapolis. Add Tuscan Prime to the list.
Does free bread count as an app? I say yes. Tuscan Prime's is awesome. It's pretty hard to screw up bread. But I know restaurants that do and you do too. Choose between butter or olive oil. Or don't. They'll happily bring both.
The first time around, this is where constructive criticism found its way into the review. Not anymore. As far as appetizers go, I've tried the arancini, calamari, octopus, prime meatball, tuna tartare, and the brussels (which aren't technically an app but make a great one). The point is, you can't go wrong.
If you're a risotto fiend like me, don't skip the arancini though. That would be going wrong.
First things first, these portion sizes are HUGE. So if the prices give you sticker shock, keep in mind you're gonna have leftovers tomorrow. Guaranteed. I've been 3 times now and let's just say lunch the next day has been awesome every time.
Your osso buco won't look like the picture above because they've improved the recipe since opening. The flavor is tremendous and you won't find a more perfectly cooked hunk of lamb. Drop the knife. You won't need it.
In full disclosure, I haven't tried the chicken parm since the first review when I was a little disappointed. I'd have no qualms about ordering it now. Any kinks Tuscan Prime had at opening are long gone.
I've now had 2 steaks—the ribeye and a dry-aged strip steak off the secret menu. The dry-aged strip is one of the more memorable steaks of my life. I order steak medium rare and both times, it was perfect. If you like a rich meal, add truffle butter to your steak. It's $6 which could very well be a 10% increase to your steak's cost but honestly, if I had to choose, I'd cancel Spotify for a month to get the truffle butter.
Save Room for Dessert
I've got a crazy sweet tooth so I always have room for dessert. But Eylîn, GM Tim, and both owners repeatedly cautioned us to save room for dessert. They weren't wrong. I've been 3 times in the last 1.5 months and ordered the beignet wheel all 3 times. Which isn't out of the ordinary. Gennaro, one of the owners, said 80% of tables who get dessert choose the beignets. If food tastes better off a stick, it definitely tastes better off a Ferris wheel.
The beignets came with 3 sauces—chocolate, vanilla, and raspberry. Honestly you don't need them but if you're feeling crazy, pour one on. All three are good. In the unlikely scenario that you have any beignets left, don't be afraid to take them home. They won't need to stay good long...
Tuscan Prime hires several local partners to enhance their menu. Businesses like Blue Crab Cupcakes for cakes and Always Ice Cream for ice cream. I mentioned that I'm something of an ice cream connoisseur and good friends with the good people at Always Ice Cream and before I knew it, we had a cup of ice cream with a sparkler at our table. We also got a slice of chocolate cake. Unsurprisingly, I was too full to eat it. When I took it home and weighed it, it was over 1.5 pounds!
On my first visit, I didn't discover the joy of Tuscan Prime's sundaes. Now I've tried the Campfire S'mores and Holy Cannoli. Both are epically indulgent. I normally don't even like s'mores ice cream but this... it's hard to explain. Take a look and you'll understand. This is something you have to taste to believe.
Side note: Tuscan Prime loves sparklers. Like really loves them. It seemed like every table got a dessert with an incendiary device in it.
Operation summer bod is in full swing so I didn't order all the desserts. But we watched table after table order different desserts and let me tell you, Tuscan Prime is gonna be famous for desserts. I can easily see this becoming one of my favorite spots for celebrations that call for desserts. Think birthdays, business milestones, Tuesdays... you get the idea.
Ask to sit under the tree, order off the secret steak menu, and save room for dessert!
Tuscan Prime is expensive. I've never escaped for less than $140 a person (including tip). However, the cliché is true. You get what you pay for. Maybe you're lucky enough to eat Tuscan Prime regularly. Maybe it's a special occasion place where you have to break into the piggy bank. But everyone in Annapolis should try it at least once. And dare I say, Tuscan Prime is worth a drive from D.C. or Baltimore.