Out to Sea
New Asian-Fusion Restaurant Falters
If the new Lemongrass turned out to be a harmless but ultimately unconvincing take on stylish warehouse dining--middling food at reasonable prices--its sister Annapolis import, Tsunami (1300 Bank St.,  327-1370), is the genuine article: A genuinely objectionable restaurant. Located in the same reclaimed Harbor East warehouse building, and attached to Lemongrass by a smokers' courtyard, the fancier-by-far, mood-indigo Tsunami has the courage of its obnoxious convictions, namely that "fusion" means pot luck, and that if lights are dimmed low enough, suckers will grow in the seats.
This is, at least, how it all felt on a recent Saturday night, when Tsunami's front-of-house staff was bravely holding it together. The fundamental problems were elsewhere, with the cynical menu and the kitchen, which was obviously overwhelmed. If we had not felt continuously disappointed by the food, then we would have let some things slide--for example, the sex-club lighting scheme might have stimulated and not annoyed us. Or something like commercial soy sauce bottles on the table would have been accepted as innocuous and not the outrage we decided it was.
But nothing did work. Even something as easy to fool diners with as a fried calamari appetizer ($9)--where simply frying it freshly and tossing in something as simple as yellow peppers can make friends--flunked with its absence of imagination and flabby breading, leaving diners to wonder whether it had been fried hours before. And once an idea like this takes hold, it infects everything. Then, the other half-decent appetizers--shrimp and scallop potstickers ($11), their insides too mealy, and tiger prawn spring rolls ($8), not helped by a cloying hoisin dipping sauce--start to feel like food for people who don't like food but do like fancy cocktails. Selections from the sushi menu--prepared off-stage--were also suspect. Everything should have been prettier than it was, served with more ambition and flair. A dragon roll ($6) didn't even exploit the crowd-pleasing potential of luscious avocado and festive fish roe. (About those soy sauce bottles: It's Tsunami's assertive ambiance that sets you up to expect something more cunning, something you haven't seen before; same with the lacquer-ware sushi boat.)
Some of these complaints were retrospective, formed after the second and third courses came and wiped all goodwill away: a Thai Caesar salad ($6), with minimal flavor of any kind much less Thai; an avocado salad ($6) in which too much sweet and thick sesame miso dressing lacquered the avocado in gelatinous ick; the Tsunami salad ($5), fine but not pretty or new; and a coconut curry soup ($8), with impressive hunks of sea bass but in a halfhearted and watery broth.
Food temperature and portion size--two things seldom worried about on this page--were also problems at Tsunami. When the entrées came out, some were cold, a sign of a struggling kitchen. The Tsunami crab cake ($16 for one/$30 for two) showed evidence of competent searing and was seasoned pleasantly, but the mushy, lump-free interior made it a dish we could not recommend. None of the menu's "burnt-sugar chili" adhered to truly beautiful but cold slices of rare New York strip ($28), and pairing it with goat-cheese mashed potatoes is just lazy in a fusion joint. The Chilean sea bass ($31) was laughably small, enough so to make it not worth considering. A dutiful Japanese hot pot ($19), one of three noodle dishes on the menu, proved an adequate but forgettable alternative to the plated dishes. Not so the Angus beef miso meatballs in shiso cream pesto udon noodles ($15), which managed to be both dull (the flavorless meat) and vile (the awful noodles with a flavor-packet-tasting sauce).
We'd heard good things about Tsunami's Annapolis location, and we're still willing to be persuaded that the new Baltimore spot can live up to that reputation. But we showed up happy, and left not.