|Sams Waterfront Café
Not Just Any Tom, Dick or Harry
Getting together with good friends for a special evening is always something I look forward to. Making the destination Sams Waterfront Café added to my enthusiasm. Its been several years since my last visit to Sams, and my memories were dim. Having heard some very favorable feedback from some discernible palates, I was eager for the reacquaintance.
Tucked in the Chesapeake Harbour Marina, Sams is not the easiest restaurant to find. If its your first visit, you may want to call for specific directions. Once there, you can kick back and fantasize about owning one of the beautiful yachts anchored at the docks. Sams takes advantage of its surroundings, via a wall of windows, by focusing the diners attention to the marina, luxury vessels and waterway beyond.
For weekend dinner, reservations are nice but not required (summer months are another story). A piano player provides soothing background music for both the bar and dining room. Tables are set with white cloths and tasteful candle stands with beaded shades. Tiny white Christmas lights framing the windows add to the mood.
One recommendation for those of you bothered by cigarette smoke: Request a table far from the bar. With limited space, the dining room seats a tight 75. An additional 10 or so can be served in the bar. On some nights, the bar can be very busy, and noise and smoke can permeate.
That aside, the food, service and atmosphere at Sams are truly special, with keen attention to detail and customer satisfaction. The seasonal menu, labeled modern American by co-owner Mary Randall, currently highlights fresh fish and Asian influences. Executive chef/co-owner, Philip Sokolowski does a great job of elevating the ordinary to the extraordinary by stepping outside the box to create tasteful and unique food combinations. There are some traditional favorites, such as crab cakes (Maryland meat, $23.95) and filet mignon (6 oz. $22.50/10 oz. $26.50) as well as original creations.
To begin our meal, choices were broad, including a crab, portobello and gorgonzola sandwich ($9.95); seared spice-encrusted tuna and salmon sashimi with wasabi, seaweed salad and soy sauce ($9.95); and oysters available raw ($8.95), baked with Asian barbecue sauce and caviar ($8.95), smoked with lemon creme fraiche ($8.95) or chowder with applewood-smoked bacon, corn and cream ($7.95).
We went for variety, including lobster spring rolls with spicy mustard sweet soy glaze ($8.95); fried calamari with sweet soy beurre blanc and chili aioli ($7.95); mixed winter green salad with raspberry vinaigrette, toasted walnuts and goat cheese ($4.95); and a special for the evening, grilled Cajun spiced shrimp on greens with roasted peppers and served with a fabulous homemade blue cheese dressing. The greens were fine, and the other three appetizers were wonderful. The calamari was thick and non-industrial; the lobster rolls were crisp, flaky and flavorful; and the shrimp were fresh and, with fellow ingredients, a winning combination.
For entrees, we all passed on such tempting pasta dishes as Peking duck with scallions and wild mushrooms in Asian butter sauce with fettuccine ($19.95) or chicken osso buco and spinach over angel hair in garlic butter sauce ($18.95). A special Ecuadorian sea bass served with a sweet soy beurre blanc, sautéed vegetables and Korean black sticky rice ($23.95) was the no brainer for two in our party. Both sizable plates were cleaned to the shine.
Another in our party toyed with the seafood bouillabaisse (shrimp, scallops, mussels, tuna, lobster, calamari with coconut milk, lemon grass and mild red curry broth ($24.95) but ended up with the jumbo lump crab cakes with Old Bay mayonnaise, basmati rice (instead of the offered smashed potatoes) and sautéed vegetables ($23.95). Her decision was made on the basis of her last visit and order of cakes, which left a major impression. In reality, local crab served in the winter is frozen and never quite the same as our summer bounty. This is a lesson learned sometimes the hard way.
I, on the other hand, had the pleasure of selecting a wonderful entree: grilled yellowfin tuna with sun-dried tomato sauce and tapenade, goat cheese smashed potatoes and sautéed spinach ($19.95). The large piece of tuna was grilled perfectly. The tapenade topping was zesty, full of flavor and an awesome match for the mild fish. The goat cheese smashed potatoes were a real treat, too.
To our surprise, we were all able to finish with dessert as well as fresh hot coffee. Desserts, all priced at $5.00 (except the dessert for two), were limited and not as inspired as the main menu. The chocolate ganache cake was dense and moist. The candied ginger creme brulee was light and creamy, if a little too runny. An order for the warm brownie sundae with ice cream, hot fudge, caramel and walnuts was less grand than anticipated and on the soupy side, although the brownie was very good. The big winner was the large bowl of Häagen Dazs chocolate ice cream with hot fudge sauce. Always a safe bet!
We all left fat, happy and looking forward to the new spring menu, which should be introduced in March.
Sams Waterfront Cafe
2020 Chesapeake Harbour Drive East Annapolis
Proprietors: Mary Randall & Philip Sokolowski
Reason to go: Escape the ordinary.
Something to think about: Closed on Mondays.