Small plates in Annapolis

Restaurant Review

September 03, 2006|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Food: ** (2 stars)

Service: *** (3 stars)

Atmosphere: *** (3 stars)

Kyma, the new tapas and mezze restaurant in Annapolis, has a signature drink called the Mediterranean. It's made with vodka, Alize liqueur and white cranberry juice and served in a martini glass with two Swedish fish (those colorful fish-shaped gummi candies).

In some ways the drink is a metaphor for what's right and what's wrong with Kyma. It's a beautiful, pale blue creation, sweet but with a refreshing citrus accent. The fish, one orange and one green, are a visual jolt - a fun touch. But only if you're thinking more about style than substance would you use them, because an alcoholic drink flavored with gummi candy isn't a good idea as far as taste goes.

So it is with Kyma, a restaurant a little too clever for its own good.

To give you another example, the chef sent out an amuse-bouche consisting of four tiny plastic squirt bottles of tzatziki, a Greek yogurt dip. By tiny, I mean each was about an inch long and held about a teaspoon. The long skinny end was stuck through a little cube of cucumber. You squeeze it into your mouth and feel pretty silly doing it. My husband simply refused. Wise man.

On the other hand, there's a lot to like here. The tangy tzatziki itself was quite good. The staff couldn't have been nicer. The international wine list is impressive for a place that also serves gummi drinks. And the space is beautifully designed.

The 200-year-old building on West Street has been completely renovated, with only the original beams and exposed brick showing its age. Kyma is the Greek word for "wave," so it's not surprising that the predominant colors of the contemporary design are blue and white, with a huge watery mural dominating the downstairs room. I love the fact that the front can be opened up so it almost seems as if you're sitting outside. The uncluttered, light-filled spaces feel very Mediterranean, but they also have enough style to generate buzz.

With a few changes, the food could too. The menu is helpfully divided into Spanish tapas and Greek mezzes. There are also a few paellas for three or four people and a very few traditional entrees, but the way to go here is clearly the small plates.

We asked for bread and were given a choice of Spanish or Greek - for $5. Whichever you get, there will be three different ones from a good Washington bakery. There were two things wrong with our first basket. The breads were very lightly toasted so they tasted stale, and we ordered the Spanish selection and got Greek. (We knew instantly because it included pita.) Once we'd cleared up the bread problem and been given a non-toasted batch, we found that the Spanish eggplant spread, made with sweet peppers, onions and tomatoes, went very well with it.

Over the course of the next hour or so, we sampled many of Kyma's small plates with varying results. A few were quite fine. The red and white beets with potatoes, shallots and feta cheese were probably my favorite.

Traditional dishes like shrimp Saganaki, with good-sized shrimp, full-flavored feta and a decent tomato sauce, pose no problem for the kitchen. Rabbit stew with dried fruits had such a delicate sauce, mostly red wine, it managed to be a light enough dish even for August.

But then there are choices that seem downright silly, like the watermelon skewers. They are pretty enough. Six toothpicks, arranged in a little row on the plate, are each stuck with one cube of watermelon and one cherry tomato with fresh mint and a vinaigrette. The combination doesn't quite work, and it's too pricey at $4.50.

An individual lamb chop cooked in parchment with diced vegetables let off a strong, unpleasant smell of lamb when the paper was opened. The odor infused the vegetables as well. The lamb itself was quite raw.

Kyma has individual Mediterranean pizzas, but these aren't the thin, crisp-crusted creations you may be expecting. Ours, topped with artichoke hearts, tomatoes and portobello mushrooms, was a dud because of its thick, undercooked crust.

One friend who was unhappy with his food ordered espresso after dinner and was wowed by it. It seemed to turn the meal around for him. As for desserts, chocolate-lovers will be surprised to find nothing with their favorite ingredient on the menu, but there are a delicate custard served with strawberries and cream, a Spanish almond cake with almond ice cream, Greek yogurt and baklava.

As at other small-plates restaurants, you can end up spending more at Kyma than you plan to. You order as you go, share dishes around the table, and nibble as you drink. I expect that. What I didn't expect when I got the check was to find that my friend's margarita, ordered without any special requests, cost $12. The Mediterranean cocktail with gummi fish was $13.

elizabeth.large@baltsun.com

Podcasts of Elizabeth Large's reviews can be found at baltimoresun.com/large.

Kyma

Address:

69 West St., Annapolis

Hours:

Open daily for lunch and dinner

Prices:

Small plates, $2.75-$9.75

Call:

410-268-0003[Outstanding: Good: Fair or uneven: Poor:]

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