On a scale of 1 to 5, the girls rated Sputnik Cafe a 4, worthy of return trips
by Lisa Edler Knoll
Nothing beats a night out with the girls, these girls being six smart and sassy women in their 30s and 40s who enjoy good food, wine and being served.
For our first formal evening of judgment, we chose our destination to avoid the crowds of a busy downtown Annapolis weekend, so a reverse commute was in order. A 15-minute drive out Generals Highway brought us to our destination of choice, Sputnik Cafe.
Crownsville isn’t exactly restaurant row. There’s not much out that way but the county fairgrounds, a vacant psychiatric hospital and residential developments. Which makes it even more of a surprise to find not only a good restaurant but a hip restaurant.
Formerly Trifles, four-year-old Sputnik Cafe remains owned by the same folks, Maria and Bill Buszinski and David Brown. Designed around the oversized light fixture that inspired its name, Sputnik Cafe is anything but conventional. “New-age garage,” one of the girls called the chilly, echoing space of concrete floors, corrugated metal wall coverings and high un-insulated ceilings. Art glass, modern Knoll-like chairs and candlelight add to the funky feeling.
A friendly dreadlocked waitress showed us to our hip, sexy, tangerine, dining nook, where we perused first the thick cocktail and wine list, then the menu. One of the girls described the wine list as “random,” but Sputnik earned a recent Wine Spectator award for its varied selection. A house cosmopolitan was lip-smacking good if slightly cumbersome in its odd glass. Wine by the glass was appropriately served in tall globe glasses with ample pours.
The recently revamped menu tends to global fusion, with influences from the Pacific Rim, Mexico, Hawaii, the Caribbean and India. It’s a wide path, but one traveled admirably. Flavors are bold and ingredients fresh, including fresh fish shipped daily from Hawaii. A clever dining option, and one chosen by several in our group, is the three for $30 menu, offering several choices of appetizer, entree and dessert off the regular menu. It’s a great way to test the waters without breaking the bank, although we later discovered these plates were smaller portions than if ordered a la carte.
To start, Thai lettuce wraps filled with Asian spiced chicken, sprouts, cilantro and peanuts were light and tasty with a little kick. A seared tuna salad was sesame-encrusted and served on a bed of Chinese cabbage with daikon and julienned carrots tossed in miso vinaigrette. Shared by two, it was proclaimed yummy. Tempura asparagus had lots of flavor but its sauce overwhelmed.
Of the entrees, sesame-encrusted Tasmanian salmon with an orange ginger sauce made a pretty presentation and was moist and delicate in flavor. Pancit Canton, a Filipino noodle dish with shrimp, chicken and vegetables was, on the other hand, bland and lacking distinction. Pan-seared sea scallops served with sticky rice, stir-fried vegetables with yellow curry sauce and mango chutney was another case of a sauce too strong and spicy.
To finish the meal, a delectable pumpkin cheesecake brought raves, and a flourless chocolate cake was moist, rich and an inspiration for future visits to the gym.
We girls rated Sputnik Cafe 4 on a scale of 1 to 5. On the down side, some dishes pushed the envelope with overwhelming fire. On the up, the combination of atypical ingredients and flavors of the world made the meal a blast. We judged Sputnik worthy of return trips.
Sputnik Cafe • 1397 Generals Highway, Crownsville • 410-923-3775
• Appetizers $7-$20
• Entrees $14-$30
Editor’s note: Restaurant observer and Bay Weekly sales and marketing manager Lisa Edler Knoll, a.k.a. Gabby Crabcakes, returns with a new monthly take, Girls’ Night Out.