Pulsating music permeates the smartly designed, 160-seat restaurant carved out of the first floor of the Verizon building. The tables are on fire. OK, just one has a fire pit. Its flames leap from a table on the patio where couples cuddle on the nearby couches. The staff, all clad in black, move briskly. Even the colorful fish swimming in the giant aquariums at the entrance of the restaurant seem hip.
We settled in next to a table of 12. One benefit of the din is that you can't hear anything from the nearby diners. I spotted the seasonal beer listed on the menu, but alas, the bar had none. Too bad, as this is high season for winter beers. I settled for a draft of Clipper City Loose Cannon ($5.25), while my wife chose a glass of Montevina Chardonnay ($6.50).
The food was not as exciting as the atmosphere. The ahi wonton crisps appetizer ($9.25), strips of rare tuna perched on wontons and drizzled with a wasabi sauce, looked fabulous but tasted much milder than I expected. So too with the pot stickers ($9.50), chicken and vegetable dumplings served with a soy dipping sauce. They looked good, but lacked flair.
A sushi chef was working away in the corner, so I tried a few fish rolls. The spicy tuna roll ($6), tuna wrapped in rice and seaweed, had a slight kick. The Atlantic roll ($6.50), baked salmon with cucumber and an eel sauce, was milder.
The menu is extensive, offering soups, pizzas, sandwiches, sushi and entrees, most prepared with a Hawaiian touch. The first Kona Grill was in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Taking a visual clue from the aquariums, we ordered a fish dish, the chili-glazed salmon ($20.75). It was perfectly cooked, crisp on the crust and moist in the middle — a pleasing preparation. The exterior was slightly sweet, the interior all succulent salmon.
The Kona Grill's signature dish is macadamia nut chicken ($18.50). Once again, the chicken breasts covered with a golden nuts looked striking. But once again, they needed a flavor lift. A pineapple papaya marmalade helped. The accompanying Parmesan garlic mashed potatoes lacked life.
Desserts were colorful. A red velvet cupcake ($4) had a show-stopping hue. But the better-tasting dessert was the creme brulee ($4), flavored with berries.
The enclosed patio of the Kona Grill, with a view of Pratt Street, is inviting. It would be even more so if the construction on Pratt Street — preparing downtown for Baltimore's Labor Day Grand Prix — would go away. Looking out on orange cones and a front-end loader doesn't do much for the soul.
Kona Grill is not the place for quiet cuisine. But if you want a little excitement, and maybe a flammable table, this is your spot.
Where: 1 E. Pratt St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Credit Cards: American Express, Discover, Master Card, Visa
[Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭ Good: ✭✭✭ Fair or uneven: ✭✭ Poor: ✭]