Sam's Waterfront Cafe. It sounds deliciously raffish. Romantically seedy. Sort of like "Casablanca" without Casablanca.
Don't be misled, though. This is Annapolis we're talking about, where the waterside dives are as spotless as a new pair of deck shoes, and the grizzled old sea dogs all have diplomas from exclusive prep schools.
What it lacks in raffish charm, though, this cafe makes up in sheer loveliness. Unlike Casablanca, this is a place you really can visit "for the waters." The building, which once housed Dominique's, is styled like a Chesapeake lighthouse, and presides over a serene, sailboat-filled harbor.
The mostly-seafood menu at Sam's, now managed by spa-cuisine pioneers Michael and Cynthia Dalesio, looked great, offering appetizing sauces and interesting flavor combinations. And our dinners proved as attractive as their descriptions, with a variety of textures and colors arranged casually on the plate.
Our taste buds were pleased, too -- with reservations.
The grilled, smoked chicken sausage ($4.75) was a marvel. We had expected something pale and lean and health-foodish, but the sausage was dark and ruddy, with a robust chewy skin and lots of Eastern European gusto. It was served with a fruit chutney with an indescribable, but addictive, flavor.
I didn't order the seafood chowder ($1.95), but it arrived anyway, with the waiter's explanation that my choice -- crab soup with saffron and orange zest -- was not available. The chowder was far from stingy with the fresh seafood, and its light broth had a classy note of lobster. But the flavors had no depth, and the soup was ultimately insipid and unsatisfying.
Tenderloin of beef ($18.95) also had its disappointments. The "three peppercorn sauce" had some flair if you happened to bite into a peppercorn, but was otherwise a fuzzy brown sauce without much distinction. And my companion was unnerved by the curious texture of the meat. "This looks prechewed," she said, eyeing it with suspicion.
On the other hand, I had nothing but good things to say about my pan-fried scallops, served with two excellent sauces, a searing salsa and a mellow garlic mayonnaise. Both entrees were accompanied by fine vinaigrette-dressed salads, and several vegetables, including a notable squash medley with fresh basil.
It had been years since I visited Dominique's, and most of that meal has receded into the mists of time. But I seem to recall JTC ending my dinner with that rarest of desserts -- homemade chocolate truffles. I'm happy to report that such truffles, bedded in whipped cream, are still here, and still as scrumptious as remembered.
Sam's Waterfront Cafe
Where: Chesapeake Harbour Marina, 2020 Chesapeake Harbour Drive, Annapolis
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays
Credit Cards: AE, DC, MC, V
Features: Seafood, American and Mediterranean dishes
Non-smoking section? No, but manager will try to keep non-smokers separated from smoking patrons
Call: (301) 263-3600.