When we heard Anastasia Italian Bistro & Lounge was opening on Thames Street, a stone’s throw from the other Kali’s Restaurant Group holdings (Kali’s Court, Tapas Adela, Admiral’s Cup), we had great expectations. The restaurant, which doubles as an after-hours club, replaces the restaurant group’s Meli American Bistro, a Mediterranean-inspired bistro, which never quite found its footing. The new concept, named for owner Vasilis Keramidas’s daughter, and, appropriately, translated as “resurrection,” is probably more in keeping with its Fells Point neighborhood, which includes lots of live music and a plethora of places to party.
Anastasia fits right into the scene, with its décor based on things that go vroom (including floor-to-ceiling photographs of Italian motorcycles and cars) and va-va-voom (life-sized images of lusty-looking sex sirens Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida are on the walls) in a slick, sexy space.
Think: La dolce vita comes to Fells Point.
Anastasia wears many hats, from the time it opens at 11 a.m. for lunch service until the last disco light stops spinning at 2 a.m. It’s a place to eat outside on a summer’s day, a spot for satisfying Italian fare or a craft cocktail during a daily happy hour, and after 10 p.m., a venue for those who want to get down and boogie to the beat of live local bands.
The menu features an assortment of classic starters (antipasto, fried calamari), traditional Italian pasta dishes (frutti de mare, rigatoni with spicy pork sausage and porcini mushrooms), and a variety of personal pizzas, though if you want something lighter (and less pricey), you can also opt for a simple sandwich—a meatball sub or roasted vegetable panini—served with a side salad or fries.
We arrived at 7:30 p.m. for dinner on a Saturday night, and we had the dining room almost to ourselves, though by 9 p.m., the place was packed with patrons, many of whom were there to dance and drink. We came for the food.
The bruschetta sampler, with a variety of tasty toppings, including garlic-infused, fire-roasted tomatoes and house-made pesto and roasted red peppers, was fun and festive and paired well with our drinks (a Sangiovese Chianti and a signature Sophia—Van Gogh vodka with lychee liqueur, cranberry juice, and a floating rose petal). We followed the baguette bites with a shared Caesar salad. Though nothing special, the salad sated our need to graze before the main course and featured a good kick of garlic. Our grilled shrimp entree, prepared simply with olive oil and garlic and sided by steamed Brussels sprouts and a generous heap of crisp, roasted potatoes, was a highlight of the meal.
Another winner was the lasagna bolognese—a sizeable slab layered with minced veal and a homemade, tangy tomato sauce. The entrees were served on square, white plates which framed the food beautifully. We wrapped up the meal with tiramisu, which was the only real culinary disappointment of the night. The lady fingers were overly soaked in coffee liqueur, and the texture, usually rendered light and airy from whipped mascarpone, had turned soggy.
Overall, our service made us smile, though not necessarily for the right reasons. It’s safe to say what we witnessed—including one of the bartenders using a lint brush in the middle of the dining room floor—is not in the Food Service Playbook. Though we had several servers through the course of the evening, the waitress taking our order seemed unfamiliar with the menu and answered our menu questions monosyllabically.
Anastasia wears many hats, from the time it opens at 11 a.m. until the last disco light stop spinning at 2 a.m.
On a repeat visit, during the lunch shift, service was improved, but the portions were on the smaller side and the quality of the food seemed to have slipped. My companion and I opted for the “Pick Two” special—$7.95 for your choice of a cup of soup and half a salad, pizza, or panini combination. We opted for the Caprese panini (tomato, mozzarella, basil) and a tricolored salad with a colorful Italian flag-inspired assortment of alternating tomato, avocado, and mozzarella on a skewer. The half-sandwich was gone in three bites, and the waiter didn’t warn us that the side salad was almost identical to the sandwich filling. The half of a personal pizza packed with crispy prosciutto was more generously portioned. Overall, it was tasty, but more of a flatbread than a pizza.
Also problematic (unless you sit outside or in a side dining room): Most of the tables are comprised of high-tops with backless barstools, which is not the most comfortable way to spend an evening if you want to sit back and relax.
Like it’s predecessor, Anastasia still seems to be searching for its identity. Is it a nightclub? An upscale dining spot? A cafe? The food is above average, but the uneven service and the lounge concept don’t work well if you’re looking for a fine-dining experience. As the saying goes, you can’t be all things to all people.
ANASTASIA ITALIAN BISTRO & LOUNGE 1636 Thames St., 410-534-6666.
HOURS 11 a.m.-2 a.m., daily.
CUISINE Nouvelle Italian.
PRICE Appetizers: $4.99-11.95; entrees: $12.95-16.95; desserts: $3.95-7.95.
ATMOSPHERE Italian bistro-bar with live music.