For a change, snakehead run into town on a rail

Annapolis cafe plans to make dinner of - not for - the fish

August 22, 2002|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

On a routine New York-to-Baltimore run this week, Amtrak had six young, wiggling customers. But they didn't pester anyone for water or food or even a cup of ice. They were squirmy but very, very hardy passengers.

"I didn't want them alive. Damn things would be walking down the aisle of the train," says Kim Klopcic, owner of the Annapolis restaurant The Yin Yankee Cafe.

But the six northern snakeheads were delivered quite live to Klopcic, who bought the fish for $6 a head from a Chinese merchant in New York's Bowery. Without incident, he carried the snakeheads in a box on the train home to Baltimore. He says his wife wasn't thrilled with the peculiar luggage, but aren't wives always trying to spoil snakehead fun? Plus, Klopcic had spicy plans for the little devils.

The Yin Yankee Cafe plans to debut its snakehead special tonight, when dinner service begins at 5 p.m. at the funky sushi restaurant on Main Street in Annapolis. Who knows how they will taste. In China, they are a delicacy - a word Webster's defines as "something you wouldn't eat for $500." Yin Yankee's snakehead supper could well be an orgiastic, gastric milestone. The point is opportunity knocked, or rather, slithered.

As Maryland's snakeheads are poisoned in a Crofton pond in a story heard round the world, Yin Yankee head chef Jerry Trice will be gingerly wrapping the six most-wanted fish in banana leaves and slathering them with a homemade Indonesian curry. Then he'll roast them until final, absolute and permanent DEATH occurs. Tonight's special will be billed "The Chinese Walking Banana Fish" and will sell for about $20.

"We will sell out," Trice said yesterday. "The timing is perfect now."

Trice has lately been the voice of snakehead commercials for the restaurant. In the radio spots, Trice says snakeheads have gotten a bum rap and aren't scary at all. Why, he saw one get out of a cab in the company of an attractive woman. "He's a tasty sucker," as the ad goes. For tonight's snakehead debut, Trice plans to prepare a sign for the restaurant window: "Snakeheads: Chicks Dig 'Em."

Stranger things have happened than banana-wrapped snakeheads and a facetious public service campaign to improve their image. Nothing stranger (or more opportunistic) comes to mind at this moment, but the subject still has legs. Who knows - one day soon there might be a snakehead sports mascot, a snakehead pale ale, or a shaken-not-poisoned snakehead martini.

The timing is perfect.

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