- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Funky, groovy, edgy or fun: Call it what you want. The Sputnik Cafe is definitely unique.

The modern American menu that the restaurant’s owners tout as “global fusion cuisine” is worth the drive to the hidden community of Crownsville, Md., just a stone’s throw from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Chefs and co-owners David Brown, Bill Buszinski and wife Maria Buszinski opened the cafe in August 2001 on a wooded tract of land just off Generals Highway.

When I chatted with colleagues about my next dining review, the first question was: Is it Russian? The second: Does the name have anything to do with the space satellite?

Well, it turns out, there is a little bit of a connection.

The owners went on EBay looking for a special chandelier that could be the focal point of their dining room. They wanted something that would express their global vision.

After some time, they found just the right chandelier, removed from an old Chicago hotel. The piece had been known as the Sputnik chandelier because of its bursting steel rods with lights on the end of each, similar in appearance to one of the three parts of the Russian space satellite. Now Sputnik resides in Anne Arundel County.

Whether you find that a little cool or a lot strange, wait till you see it. The chandelier fits the dining room perfectly.

The rest of the decor is, pardon my use of the word again, funky.

Orange, blue and yellow. Very unfinished, but very well thought out. Walls are covered with rough-cut vertical siding. Stainless-steel tabletops are covered with white tablecloths for dinner and are surrounded by retro plastic chairs. Three curved curtains are suspended from the ceiling and softly add a little privacy for a few of the tables. Keep an eye out for plastic toy soldiers, as they might show up unexpectedly in places I won’t give away.

The main dining area seats about 60. A cozy bar off to the side seats six. There’s an outdoor seating area when weather permits.

The wine list is as interesting as the restaurant and provides some very unusual offerings. It offers good variety and a range of prices.

The dinner menu offers 11 starters (three salads and eight appetizers) and 15 main entrees.

A basket of hot rolls arrived soon after we placed our drink order. Brushed with butter, then sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and sea salt, the bread offering was simple but good.

We started with the Sputnik sampler ($14). It contained two fried lumpia rolls filled with shrimp and chicken; a spring roll of Vietnamese rice paper filled with roasted duck, greens and a miso dressing; Thai grilled chicken skewers with a spicy dipping sauce and a chicken tamale wrapped in banana leaves and served with a verde salsa. Most were very tasty; the exception was the tamale, which was on the bland side.

As for main plates, we ordered the red chili marinated pork tenderloin ($17), the Mongolian marinated rack of lamb ($22) and the roasted duck enchiladas ($15).

The grilled pork tenderloin was so moist you could slice it with a butter knife. The red chili marinade added a nice twist to an otherwise mild meat. A potato dish with roasted red peppers and cilantro accompanied the pork. I love cilantro, but the dish went overboard.

To call the rack of lamb tender would be an understatement — it literally melts in your mouth. It was crisp on the outside and oh, so wonderful on the inside. The molasses-glazed sweet potatoes offered a sweet contrast.

We were warned in advance that the duck enchiladas were spicy, and the warnings were correct. They were hot, probably the spiciest dish on the menu.

Often spices can mask the flavors of the ingredients, and we worried that the duck would be lost in the offering. But the richness of the duck nicely balanced out the spices, and the meat played a dominant role in the dish. The blue corn tortillas accented with Gorgonzola cheese added yet another unexpected but flavorful layer. The Northern white beans on the side were tender but not mushy and were very well-seasoned.

Other meat offerings are the porterhouse steak au poivre finished with a sake reduction served with braised green papaya and purple potato puree; elk topped with a mole sauce and served with baby broccoli and roasted golden beets.

From the sea, there are the large panko-encrusted sea scallops served with an Asian slaw; a red curry grilled sea bass served with sticky rice and asparagus; or a sauteed lobster tail atop a vegetable salad tossed with a spicy Korean dressing and served over rice.

Desserts are all made in-house. Each of the owners has a specialty, and you make your choices from descriptions taped into the pages of a Dr. Seuss “board book,” a small book with thick cardboard pages. Because the portions were so generous, we decided to pick only one, the cappuccino cheesecake. We were pleasantly surprised by the subtlety of the flavor — we have sampled some overbearing cheesecakes lately, and this one tasted both of cappuccino and cheesecake.

RESTAURANT: Sputnik Cafe, 1397 Generals Highway, Crownsville, Md.; 410/923-3775 or www.sputnikcafe.com

DIRECTIONS: Route 50 east toward Bowie. Exit onto Route 3. Take Route 3 north to Interstate 97. Take I-97 south to first exit (Crownsville). Make right at first traffic light and follow sign to Crownsville. Restaurant is just ahead on the left.

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

PRICES: Lunch salads $4 to $10, sandwiches $6 to $8, entrees $12 to $15; dinner soups/salads $4 to $10, appetizers $7 to $15, entrees $14 to $29; desserts $6


CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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