Bay Bites

 Vol. 10, No. 25

June 20-26, 2002

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An Inscrutable Yin Yankee
by Chris Kulczycki

I didn’t know what to make of Yin Yankee. Situated as it is across from Annapolis Market and City Dock, Yin Yankee could easily be another of those mediocre eateries catering to tourists who value location over food quality. Given its menu of American/Asian cuisine, it might be one of those over-stylized fusion boutiques specializing in tiny portions of tall and improbable food combinations. And with a whimsical décor of suspended umbrellas, spherical fish tanks, bubble dividers and walls that suggest a paint factory explosion, could it serve serious food?

Only a few bites revealed that Yin Yankee is indeed focused on very serious food.

Choosing among the excellent appetizers is another conundrum. Certainly the perfectly steamed Thai-style mussels in spicy lemon grass broth are a must. And the tender chili-pod fried calamari served with a sort of spicy soy vinaigrette is the best I’ve tasted. Restaurateurs who still serve deep-fried rubber bands with canned marinara — you know who you are — should stand your chefs to a plate of these. The shrimp and vegetable beignets are light and crisp; he flavors do blend a bit too much, but the spicy habenaro dipping sauce adds some zing. If you still can’t decide, there’s the bento box sampler of gingered lemon potstickers, shrimp and scallion wantons, chicken or beef yakitori and duck spring rolls in a truly elegant presentation. Only the duck spring rolls are less than excellent; the flavors of the ingredients, while excellent on their own, get lost among their mates.

The star of the entrée list is no mystery: it’s a whole fish roasted in banana leaves and served with cool banana-ancho chutney. Our black bass was layered with tomato, basil and a very spicy ginger paste before being wrapped in the leaves and cooked to absolute perfection. It was steaming hot, tender, moist and huge. The delicate white flesh contrasted splendidly with the spicy ginger paste and refreshingly mellow jam; each flavor came through cleanly and clearly yet made an artful whole.

Seared Norwegian salmon is another tribute to seafood cookery; the almost crispy exterior offsets the tender just-cooked middle. It’s served over wonderful spinach sautéed with garlic and whole shitake mushrooms, but is inexplicably accompanied by a smoked salmon-asparagus roll, which adds little.

A special of Thai-style seafood stew in a coconut curry broth was resplendent with grilled halibut, tuna, salmon, mussels, shrimp and scallops. While excellent overall, the flavors of the fish do meld after sitting in the broth for a few minutes. The accompanying fragrant rice was lovely.

If you’d prefer a lighter and less expensive meal, three noodle dishes — a Vietnamese noodle bowl; outstanding Udon noodles and vegetables with peanut-lime sauce; and a so-so curry tofu with bean sprouts, basil and pineapple — make fine choices. Yin Yankee also features a full sushi bar, and were it not for Joss just up the street, it might be the best in town.

As for dessert, I fear I have fallen down on the job, for in a dozen or so meals at Yin Yankee we’ve never left room. But they do look delicious. Sounds from diners at adjoining tables are positive.

Beverages include a selection of Asian-influenced juice concoctions, a small but well-considered wine list, numerous sakes and a fair selection of beer from bottle or tap. Which brings me to my only real complaint. On two visits, the micro-brewery draft beer I ordered has been skunky. Perhaps the keg was old or was improperly stored, but it’s a surprising oversight for a restaurant of this quality.

Yin Yankee manages to present both Zen-like elegance and a funky casualness. Its small and intimate dining room, professional, knowledgeable and friendly servers and masterful cooking add up to a delightful dining experience. A couple might spend anywhere from $50 to over $100 for a full meal and this it well worth it.

Yin Yankee
105 Main Street Annapolis • 410/280-8703
Proprietor: Kim Klopcic
Reason to go: Unusual décor, a friendly atmosphere and innovative food.
Something to think about: Come with an open mind; it’s the more unusual dishes that are best.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly