When Belgium-born chef Frederik De Pue opened Flamant in the then upscale neighborhood of West Annapolis, he defined his new venture as a “neighborhood bistro”. Already recognized by Food and Wine magazine as a rising star based on his performance as a chef in a top-tier Washington DC restaurant, he wanted to create his own world away from the ordinary. So, without abandoning his classic culinary training, De Pue created a brand new vision of how food can feed both body and soul. His menus showcase healthy ingredients he buys locally and translates them into exquisite and original edibles. An artist at heart, he draws each dish as he envisions them on the plate. The results are a delight to the senses. And so is the décor he masterminded in the cottage that he transformed into one of the most charming spaces imaginable, complete with a picture window where patrons can see the chef and his helpers working together, choose from among several private dining spaces or enjoy the high ceilinged main room-cum-fireplace.
“Who was your interior decorator?,” I asked Deanna Couch, the retired military officer who followed her bliss into the food field upon her retirement. “The chef,” she replied, pointing out such details as the shelves and cupboards used for storage as well as accents. De Pue himself likes to take a break from the kitchen and greet guests at random. I can report he has a fine sense of humor and a contagious smile.
Chef De Pue is more than a chef and more than an artist. His engaging personality attracts people in the community, where he heads the community business association, opens his parking lot for the annual West Annapolis Octoberfest, and masterminds a vibrant Christmas Market on the first two weekends of December. His circle of friends is wide, with many area residents considering Flamant a “second home” and a group of former ski buddies convening for an annual reunion at his restaurant. Most recently, De Pue revised his bill of fare, merging small plates with main courses and making it easy to sample a veritable buffet of edible temptations.
Valid until early October, the current menu now lists small plates with heartier main courses. Unlike most menus, there is no distinction between appetizers and entrees. And for those who want to test the waters, there are weekday Happy Hours featuring $8 libations and snacks for $5. On a recent visit, two of us enjoyed house-smoked salmon bites garnished with tiny dill sprigs and chive stems, toast boats overflowing with a generous cargo of steamed seasonal veggies (fresh peas, corn kernels, green and yellow beans, slivers of carrots) and exquisite tartlets overflowing with a fiery jalapeno mousse. I sipped a bright rose and my companion was happy with a smooth cabernet sauvignon.
But why stop there? We went on to more surprises – a colorful platter of heirloom tomatoes bathed in house-made red wine vinegar, the chef’s version of a burger -this one a house-made sesame roll piled high with ribbons of duck confit in a subtle orange sauce sharpened with blue cheese and greaseless Belgian=style frites that actually tasted like potatoes. Ketchup made in the kitchen was a thoughtful addition. My companion loves custards, coconuts and and anything pineapple, so he zeroed in on a dessert combining all three – the custard capped with a caramelized layer that shattered when speared with a spoon. “That’s my favorite dessert,” confided our serious server, sotto voce. Like others on the staff here, he was dressed in black and knew a lot about food and wine.
Flamant’s menu is like no other. At this time of year, you will find crispy blue crab rolls, a lamb T-bone chop, sea bass, very fancy asparagus, cod with peas, a unique surf and turf featuring grilled quail paired with prawns, a parmesan risotto that’s makes the world a better place, and a 10-ounce New York strip steak. It is fair to say that most items are a la carte, with prices ranging from $9 to $48 for the steak. Chef always includes a suitable-for-sharing dish, currently the sea bass with mango lobster sauce and a salad.
Flamant’s offers a savvy wine list and service that approaches perfection. Guests are often greeted at the door and many are regulars, known by name. The evening we were there a group arrived straight from BWI – back home and hungry for the good food and good vibes for which Flamant is known. A staff member stashed their luggage and led them to a table,
There’s a good reason why Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema named Flamant as one of his eight most favorite restaurants in the metropolitan restaurant. That’s a plus for visitors to Annapolis.