Samm’s Restaurant and Lounge has been around
for six years, gaining a reputation for fine, simple American
cuisine with a few international touches. In May, Michael Brocking
bought the restaurant and, like a smart businessman, decided
not to fix what wasn’t broken.
Brocking wisely kept the original chef, Segundo Guaman, and updated the lounge area from its cluttered sofa and chair aesthetic to a come-to-the-Kasbah theme - complete with a tented ceiling, a banquette that borders the room and moveable screens for privacy. The two dining areas were tweaked slightly. They’re elegant yet informal, a place where couples sit at beautifully appointed tables lit by mismatched chandeliers and the music is kept low enough for larger parties to converse without shouting.
The one thing that needs fine-tuning is the menu. Items such as Samm’s "pupu platter" - an assortment of Asian hors d’oeuvres; vegetable dumplings in teriyaki sauce served with sweet potato fries; and buffalo chicken wings with bleu cheese dipping sauce, are dated and don’t belong on a menu that, while not innovative, are perfectly prepared and showcase fresh, seasonal ingredients.
I loved Samm’s clams - a half dozen small, sweet clams with a light, crisp breadcrumb topping. This is one of those retro dishes that are often heavy and over-baked. Here the topping adds a bit of crunch to the soft shellfish meat. With a squeeze of lemon, they’re perfect.
Another crowd-pleaser (that can be a real dud) is a moist, pan-roasted crab cake with very little breading and lots of crabmeat. At Samm’s it comes with crisp coleslaw that’s a little heavy on the mayonnaise, and house-made tartar sauce.
A milky, fresh homemade mozzarella plays the straight man to its cloak of salty prosciutto in the bocconcini appetizer. The little roll is served atop a thick slice of grilled tomato. That earthy tomato pillow and the drizzle of good balsamic vinegar that tops the appetizer deliver a blast of exciting flavor.
The pastas are not terribly exciting. I’d nix the "blackened" chicken over porcini mushroom ravioli from the menu - blackened foods are a fad that hung around too long and shouldn’t be reprised.
But the linguine with white clam sauce is everything I’d hoped it would be - the ring of small clams in their shells, sweet and tender, the brothy sauce deep in clam flavor, the pasta al dente.
Order the grilled lamb chops and you’ll receive seven that actually taste like lamb. They come with a crown of mustardy breadcrumbs that cut the richness of the meat. A heap of nutty asparagus and a mound of velvety mashed potatoes mixed with scallions and bacon accompany the chops. The bacon in the potatoes may be a throwback, but I wasn’t complaining.
The beef in Samm’s meatloaf is too finely ground and dense for it to be anything but "eh." But I did enjoy the tangy Worcestershire-spiked gravy and the garlicky pesto mashed potatoes.
Samm’s desserts are homey and pleasantly over the top. The banana and chocolate tart with its big ruffle of whipped cream looked like the clown cones I loved as a kid, but one taste and I knew this was an adult’s dessert. That whipped cream is unsweetened and flavored delicately with cinnamon. The crust is crisp and buttery, and under a thick layer of bittersweet chocolate pudding sits slices of ripe bananas.
The combination of service that is warm without being intrusive, and the superb food makes dinner at Samm’s an event to remember.
Samm’s Restaurant and Lounge (8901 Third Ave. at 89th Street) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $17-$26. The restaurant serves dinner Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Mondays. For reservations, call (718) 238-0606.
©2005 Community News Group
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