- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

So you think it’s easy opening an upscale dining establishment, with a not-so-traditional menu, next to a Gold’s Gym in a strip mall? Sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it?

Sam Chaney and his son, Sam II, knew it would not be easy, but they are working day and night to make their dream come true.

About nine months ago, they transformed their Crofton, Md., bar-nightclub into what has progressed into one of the hippest restaurants in this area of Anne Arundel County.

Fins Hawaiian Fusion specializes in Pacific Rim cuisine and in its short existence already has garnered a mention in the newly released 2005 Zagat dining guide for the Washington and Baltimore area.

The younger Mr. Chaney and executive chef Jonathan Jaquet, formerly of Tsunami in Annapolis, spent several years living, learning and working in Hawaii.

The menu offers more than a dozen native Hawaiian plates from land and sea, plus a page of sushi offerings.

The tropical drink menu or the wine menu are good places to start. To imbibe the mood of the restaurant, try something from a nice selection of martinis and margaritas or the list of fun frozen concoctions. The children’s menu even has frozen nonalcoholic fruit drinks.

Appetizers include tuna dressed in red curry with creamy wasabi and sweet soy sauce; spicy beef dumplings, steamed or fried, with smoked chili oil and sweet soy drizzle; five-spice foie gras, fresh mango and butter-crisp baguette; crispy calamari with Dominican Creole sauce; and raw oysters on the half shell served with wasabi cocktail sauce.

Fins’ mesclun salad ($5) with bacon, Maui onion and pineapple-jalapeno vinaigrette is a welcome change from the house salad at most restaurants. The Maui onion adds a nice contrast to the fresh greens, and the vinaigrette offers an unexpected but very pleasant zing.

Other unique offerings include seaweed salad and edamame .

Huli Huli short ribs ($18) are slathered with native Huli-Huli barbecue sauce served with a mango-pineapple slaw, stir-fry vegetables and potato crisps. The slow-cooked pork ribs were oh-so-tender, and the sauce finger-licking good.

Wok-seared sea scallops ($19) are served with mango-pineapple beurre blanc, applewood smoked bacon, sugar-snap-pea stir-fry and mashed sweet potatoes. The scallops were seared just long enough. The bacon, peas and potatoes all complemented the tender sea morsels.

Fins also offers a prix-fixe menu: a three-course dinner is $25, four courses are $30. This menu may change monthly. There are two to five choices available for each course.

Wok-fried coconut shrimp with mango barbecue sauce was an excellent starter. Nice-size shrimp were butterflied, then fried to the perfect degree of crispness.

The second course was a choice of soup of the day or Caesar or mesclun salad. Our server was unsure of the soup option, so the mesclun salad was the choice.

Hawaiian sugar-grilled flatiron steak was perfectly medium rare, with just a light touch of sugar, caramelized Maui onion and hoisin sauce. This was a welcome change from some places that feel compelled to smother the meat in their own special sauce.

Garlic mashed potatoes and a unique vegetable stir-fry with bok choy and sugar snap peas were very satisfying accompaniments. They are available on the regular menu with filet for $26 and New York strip for $23.

Chocolate torte was a rich and flavorful choice for dessert. Tart berries accented with a sweet wasabi cream provided a nice contrast to the creamy chocolate.

Interesting dessert selections on the regular menu include mango creme brulee tart and fresh-fruit pineapple boat.

Some rough spots to address: The pacing of the meal fell through the cracks. There was way too much downtime between plates. We would have had no complaints had it been a busy weekend, but it was a school night, I had my 8-year-old daughter in tow, and the restaurant was nowhere near capacity.

Our waiter, while friendly and adequate, didn’t seem to have full knowledge of what was going on in the kitchen that day. With that said, I do sympathize with the Chaneys. This probably is the worst time of the year to find enough help to cover all the bases (many employees are back in school), especially when you are open every day.

Fins seats 130 in the dining room and another 35 in the bar area.

So if you’re on Route 3 and looking for something a little different, give this place a try. I think you will agree that only staffing problems and location could keep Fins from staying above water.

RESTAURANT: Fins Hawaiian Fusion, 1629 Crofton Center (Routes 3 and 424), Crofton, Md.; 301/261-3366; www.finsonline.net

HOURS: Lunch 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday; bar open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily

PRICES: Soups and salads $4 to $8; appetizers $6 to $19; sandwiches $8 to $15; entrees $12 to $30; sushi $3.50 to $17; desserts $5 to $12

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: On-site parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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