- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Equally casual and elegant, Sam’s Waterfront Cafe serves up modern American cuisine with an Asian flair.

Located inside the bayside community of Chesapeake Harbour in Annapolis, Sam’s is frequented by loyal patrons from land or sea.

Owner Mary Randall offers a fine wine selection that changes regularly and for several years has won the Wine Spectator award for excellence.

Executive chef Philip Sokolowski has been with Sam’s since July 1993. He’s been a co-owner for the past six years. His menu, heavy on seafood, also has several meat and pasta offerings as well as weekly specials.

On this weeknight, there were 10 starters to choose from. A special was the smoked duck taco ($10). A thin crisp pocket contained slices of duck breast, white cheddar cheese, papaya salsa and a cilantro creme fraiche. The touch of spice to the sauce and the abundance of fresh vegetables was a great contrast to the richness of the duck breast. The crisp shell added a nice twist in textures as well.

You also should try the spicy tuna roll tempura with wasabi, pickled ginger, seaweed salad and sweet soy dipping sauce. It is just right for the diner who lives for a little adventure.

For soup lovers there’s the traditional cream of crab, or more interesting, an oyster chowder with applewood-smoked bacon, corn and cream — perfect for the approaching fall season.

There are no frills with the salads: mixed field greens with a raspberry vinaigrette or iceberg lettuce with tomato, cucumber, onion and blue cheese dressing.

Main plates are where Sam’s gets interesting — not only in variety but also artful presentation. There were 14 entrees on the menu and four specials this night.

Everyone in the party was interested in food from the sea. I opted for the sauteed grouper ($23) with basil-infused oil and aged balsamic vinegar, garlic roasted red potatoes and tomato fennel salad.

The generous portion of fish rested on top of the tomato fennel salad and with the addition of the balsamic vinegar made for quite a flavorful mouthful. The potatoes were disappointing, though, or maybe I’m just tired of kitchens that continue to serve this variety of spud.

A treat from the bay, soft shell crabs tempura ($28) had a sweet soy dipping sauce, basmati rice and stir-fried vegetables. The tempura batter was appropriately light and crisp, and offered a lovely variation on the two crustaceans. The dipping sauce had a nice flavor, but the strong soy masked the delicate crab flavor too much. The vegetables were crisp and had just the right touch of spice.

The chef accommodated a request for a petite portion of the grilled salmon ($11), served with sweet chili glaze, basmati rice and stir-fried vegetables. The fish was flaky and delicious. It is evident Sam’s takes its seafood seriously.

There were two fish specials that on a return trip sound worth a try. Grilled ruby trout is offered with a lemon thyme beurre blanc and garlic mashed potatoes; and red snapper, roasted with mangoes, peppers and lime, is served over purple potato and wild mushroom hash.

Pasta dishes include crab meat with tomatoes, herbs, Smithfield ham and spinach tossed with angel hair; and sauteed shrimp and chicken with tomatoes and basil tossed with penne in a garlic butter sauce.

For the meat lover, Sam’s offers many interesting options: grilled veal chop with tomato aioli, served over spinach, pine nut and parmesan risotto; filet mignon with grain mustard sauce, smashed potatoes and sauteed wild mushrooms; rack of lamb roasted with Guinness stout with rosemary au jus, potatoes and squash salad.

The dessert menu offers a nice variety, including a cheesecake of the day. On this evening it was an over-the-top caramel-pine nut cheesecake that was so rich, it could only be consumed in two sittings. If you like rich, flavorful cheesecake, this is perfect for you.

Staying with the caramel theme, we also had the caramel Grand Marnier flan. The flan was denser than most we’ve tried, and the first bite was a surprise. The flavor was outstanding, though, and by the end we really appreciated the body this flan offered.

Other sweet treats include a chocolate ganache cake with fresh berries, hot fudge and raspberry coulis; blueberry bread pudding and a fresh berry tart.

The architecture of the exterior was modeled after the area’s Thomas Point Lighthouse. Inside, Sam’s can accommodate 76 diners in the restaurant and 10 diners in the adjoining bar area. There’s also outside seating during the warm weather months.

RESTAURANT: Sam’s Waterfront Cafe, 2020 Chesapeake Harbour Drive East, Annapolis; 410/263-3600

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily; dinner 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, till 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Lunch soups/salads $3 to $8, appetizers $8 to $10, entrees $9 to $13; dinner soups/salads $5 to $9, appetizers $8 to $10, entrees $19 to $32; $10 to $11 petite portions are available for some entrees


CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: On-site (security guard will give you pass to enter community)

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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