Okay, here goes the promised review of Anna-Maria's. Let me begin with full disclosure: 1) I don't mind a meal that takes a long time; 2) I strive to be as objective as possible despite reading various reviews; 3) Like everyone, I have my own ideas about my favorite style of Italian food, which may be different from yours; 4) I didn't taste every dish and report what my companions said.
Hence, a total of four of us dined at Anna-Maria's, generally enjoying the experience. Mrs. 44 and I arrived a few minutes early for the reservation, but after our companions. Thus, I was left outside the gate for a couple minutes while the waiter ushered in another group behind which the gate had closed. (It is controlled by a buzzer from inside the home.) No worries. We're in, walking through nicely landscaped grounds, around the back of the chef's home that hosts the dining area. Painted on the rear wall are two scenes, a cafe and a seascape, plus there are hanging plants of various types around, lending a cheerful atmosphere.
Brief interlude, cue music. For photos and such see:
Now back to our regularly scheduled review.
Our table for four was under an open arbor on the patio. A decent spot. We peruse the menu and the waiter comes to take the order. One of our party asked for a Manhattan. Sorry, the only whiskey on offer is Scotch. Next choice: Gin. Nope. Okay, vodka? Bingo! Two glasses of wine for the others and an H2O for yours truly. And I'm thinking, okay, here's a clue. This is like dining at someone's home. If they have a big bar with a wide selection, you're good to go with your choices. If not, as is the case here, the drinks are limited. Fine. I get it. I've been to places in other locales where it's house wine, water, and that's that.
Onward! We're chatting, enjoying the fresh air, out come the appetizers, maybe half an hour or so after ordering. A little long but not to the point where I would mind. My vinaigrette salad was darn good. The dressing was unique and to my liking, although I must warn you the salad was salted the way I've experienced in Spain and other parts of Europe. Another person had a caprese salad that was fresh and good. Mrs. 44 and the other lady both enjoyed a spinach crepe with very fresh spinach taste to it.
Out comes the chef himself for a tableside confab. Nice guy, very enthusiastic, imparts a bit of his background, asks how we're doing. I like the personal touch, and it was well done, without any pretension. The only hiccup was his explanation that we were seated under the open area on the patio, and if it rained, well, he would have had to call to cancel our reservation. That was a bit disconcerting when my un-Jack Daniel's (or bourbon whiskey) affected brain collates my location as Aruba, a place where rain showers are known to pop up from time to time. So, if I'm half way through my meal, and the heavens open, is it grab the plates and dash for cover? Ahh, the night's going well, which means I catalog that for future reference and keep it to myself.
Moving right along, a while later, maybe another half hour or so, out come the entrees. This is done sequentially, not all at once the way you might be expecting at a restaurant. My spaghetti bolognese arrived first. There I sat (Because I was taught by a strict, old-school grandmother, you don't start eating until all the women's plates have arrived no matter how courteous those women might be by indicating you should start. This is a good practice and I encourage all of you to instill fine manners in your children in order that they are a proud reflection of your own high standards.). Classy chap I am, I sit tight a few minutes. Out comes a pasta with pesto. Minute or two. Next arrives the linguine with meatballs. Minute or two. Out comes Mrs. 44's lasagna. Time to dine.
AGAIN, everyone has their taste buds calibrated from their life experience. I'm providing my reaction and those comments of my dining companions. First off, the lasagna on Mrs. 44's plate was a bit exotic. There were slices of hard-boiled egg in the layers. Different. She liked it, even if the plating was a bit messy. The pesto I didn't taste, but it was reported as average. The linguine with meatballs my pal thought was average as well. He happily gave away a meatball to me, which was a bit dry, small, and nothing exiting. My spaghetti bolognese did not impress me. The sauce was sweet and kind of thin, lacking a substantial amount of meat that I prefer as well as bits of chopped carrot and so forth. Just wasn't there. The sweetness overwhelmed. I must say, the pasta was perfectly cooked. As to the portion sizes, they are smaller than your neighborhood checked-table cloth joint. That said, the sizes were acceptable IF the flavor had more amperage. (Sometimes I think we're used to these massive portions and a take-home bag. IMHO only.)
Dessert came in the form of cream puffs and a cannoli. The cannoli was darn good, with the pistachios atop a little kicker. The cream puffs were stuffed with ice-cream, which the waiter did not indicate when he mumbled down the list of choices. I like ice-cream and I like cream puffs, but my preference is not to stuff ice-cream in pastry. It was fine, just not clearly defined. And the waiter does need to speak more loudly and clearly. (I recognize I have about 40% hearing loss in one ear and 20% in the other, but the others at my table had a bit of difficulty hearing and understanding as well. SPEAK UP, MAN! (Many younger people mumble these days, and I don't know why, there're so good at shouting at the video games they play.)
Overall, this was an average meal. I like the setting (aside of the inclement weather possibilities), and I appreciate the chef's energy and desire to give a "home dining" experience. And therein lies the most accurate assessment of Anna-Maria's that I can give. For a leisurely night out (we were on the scene a total of about 2 hours), intended to be a visit to a friend, then Anna-Maria's is right for you. The menu has plenty of choices, but almost no meat such as a veal parm or other Italian standard. The service is good, if a little clunky. The flavors are home-grown. The owner gregariously welcomes you to his house. However, if that's going to be the object (and perhaps I'm completely mistaken in my so-called accurate assessment), then the price should be about 15% lower, and dial in that flavor with all those wonderful Italian possibilities we know and love. The potential is there for a great concept that breaks us out of the feed-trough mode of a cruise ship or SYSCO Food Service powered franchise (many of which dominate the island restaurant world), and that would be something for Aruba and this owner to brag about. Just saying, again, potential...
Here's the breakdown on the price in US dollars: Caprese Salad = $11, Salad vinaigrette $9.50; Spinach crepe $13 each (total $26); Spaghetti bolognese $24; Pasta with pesto $19; Lasagna $22; Linguine with meatballs $26; Cream puffs $8 each (total $16); Cannoli $8; Grey Goose martini $12; House white $7.25; Pinot grigio $9, Cappuccino $3.50; coffee $2.75. Grand total before tax: $195.00 for four people. (If I made a mistake in the math, I apologize, I'm good with words and airplanes.) I was going to post the photo of the check but the post is darn long enough already.
And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. I sincerely appreciate your indulgence in reading my review and genuinely hope that I've met your expectations in terms of thoroughness and accuracy. You know the photos and more on the blog. Bon dia.