Cafe's cooking styles mislabeled, but food's still good


The Yin Yankee Cafe and Fishmarket -- a new Annapolis restaurant that's so hip it seems to be a la SoHo, New York -- offers an eclectic menu blending Eastern and Western cooking styles under the cutesy headings "Port of Annapolis" and "Port of Hong Kong."

Having spent substantial time in both cities, I have to warn you, Yin Yankee's food resembles the cuisine of neither locale.

But that's not to say it isn't good.

On a recent visit to the 4-month old restaurant, my lunch companions and I were impressed with the concoctions offered on the menu. It probably is the only Annapolis restaurant to serve up lobster miso soup and oyster coconut, lemongrass and mint curry. But during our lunch, we found that these combinations don't always work. The quality of food was spotty.

We arrived there just after 12: 30 p.m. to find the tiny restaurant at the foot of Main Street mostly empty. We loved the decor instantly.

The large paper umbrellas suspended from the ceiling and orange-and-brown speckled walls adorned with brightly colored Asian masks were an interesting departure from most of the state capital's traditional or maritime-styled restaurant interiors.

I started the meal with the lobster miso soup ($4.50), a delicious, spicy broth that came in a black, cast-iron caldron that earned Yin Yankee an A+ for style.

The bean-paste-based soup, stuffed with vegetables and huge chunks of lobster that were slightly overcooked, was wonderful and unlike any miso I've had.

A friend had similar praise for his Maryland crab soup ($5.25). There were no twists on this Mary- land classic. The tomato broth was packed with vegetables and a hearty portion of crab meat. He also had the aloha salad ($4.95), a mound of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables on a bed of mixed greens that came with papaya chutney dressing and sesame croutons. The mix of fruits and greens was an unexpected treat, an excellent choice for a light lunch.

We split some appetizer and entree dishes, beginning with the lump crab, rock shrimp and avocado sushi roll ($7.50), which came with a tangy cucumber slaw.

We also had the two moons salmon and tuna sushi roll ($7.85), which arrived with spicy vegetables and pineapple mango soy sauce.

Both sushi rolls were tasteless, and the soy sauce dip did nothing to give them any zing.

The steamed chicken dim sum ($5.95) and the water chestnut and shrimp won ton ($7.95) looked suspiciously identical. Both came as flat rectangles on raspberry and mustard sauces that were dribbled onto the plate. Both were plenty spicy. But the chicken didn't taste anything like chicken, and the shrimp didn't taste anything like shrimp. They both tasted like each other.

And the Tenkatzu chicken breast ($10.95) -- a completely different version of the Japanese breaded and fried chicken dish -- was interesting but mediocre. Instead of rice, it came with deli- cious mashed potatoes, but the chicken's breading flaked off in clumps, and the meat was a little dry.

We ended the meal on an excellent note. Having forgotten to place our order of fish and chips, our mortified waitress brought an order of their mango mousse yellow pound cake, on the house. Although reluctant to eat any more, we devoured the cake in seconds.

Dipped in white chocolate and drizzled with a strawberry glaze, the sweet mix of mango mousse and soft cake melted in our mouths. It's worth coming to Yin Yankee just for this.

Yin Yankee Cafe and Fishmarket

Where: 105 Main St., Annapolis, 410-268-8703

Hours: Dinner, 5 p.m. to 9: 30 p.m.; lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sundays through Thursdays. Open 11 a.m. to 11: 30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Prices: Appetizers, $4.50-$12.95; entrees, $6.95-$16.95

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Diners

Rating: ***

Ratings: * culinary wasteland **** culinary heaven

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