The lower-level restaurant space at the Admiral Fell Inn has had an interesting dining past—most recently as TRUE, which focused on regional-seasonal fare, and, earlier, as Savannah, where the Cindy Wolf dynasty first took flight. The refined atmosphere and attractive dining room in a historic building have long been a welcome alternative to the typical Fells Point pubs.
Now, newcomer Fin Steak & Seafood, opening under separate ownership from the inn in late May, has taken over the spot. The chef and owner is Avi Cohen, who plied his trade at a number of Baltimore restaurants, including Linwoods Dué, and catering places before setting up shop in this kitchen. Though we didn't meet him, he did come into the dining room to greet a large party that arrived as we were getting ready to leave.
It's a soothing, relaxed atmosphere enhanced by stone walls, dim lighting, and small windows. Dark tablecloths give the room a contemporary look, and candlelight is aided by indirect lighting that adds a cozy ambiance.
But judging by the uncrowded dining room on a recent Friday night, Fin has not yet caught on. The food, setting, and service warrant a crowd, though. We discovered an inventive menu and accomplished service. Our waiter was friendly, low-key, and happily willing to offer suggestions and answer questions.
Our foursome began with appetizers and a prosaic-sounding salad: an iceberg wedge with sliced tomatoes, red onion, apple-wood smoked bacon, and chunky blue cheese dressing. It may have sounded ordinary, but it certainly wasn't. The cheese was so mild that even those of us who make faces at blue cheese found it wonderful. The salad was actually three wedges of lettuce—a generous serving that filled a dinner plate. Asiago-cheese and multi-grain breads, already on the table, were superb on their own and even better with the salad.
Perhaps the most adventurous appetizer was the crab cake trio, featuring three half-dollar-size crab cakes in different flavors: Southwestern, Asian, and traditional Maryland. The Southwestern was a kicky crab cake with corn kernels, cilantro, and cumin. Locals might find this version blasphemous; we thought it captivating. The Asian was an odd, rather bland crab combo with ginger and wasabi; the Maryland, while traditionally flavorful, was the least interesting.
We also sampled the tomato-mozzarella salad and roasted portobello mushrooms for starters. The tomatoes were nearly worthy of high summer, seasoned with basil and olive oil. The sliced mushrooms were a lovely beginning, stuffed with feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts. They were arranged on white rectangular plates with slightly scooped-out sides that gave the impression of a flopping fish—in keeping with the restaurant's name, we guess.
Fin offers several cuts of Angus beef. We tried a petite filet and Delmonico. Both were top-notch and prepared as ordered. The medium-rare filet was a sensuous piece of beef; the Delmonico, almost creamy in texture. The evening's special, mahi mahi with coconut milk sauce, was thick and flaky with an alluring taste. Be prepared: We found the sauce spicier than described. The fish was lapped over basmati rice amid tiny julienne vegetables, which were crunchy and light years beyond many restaurants' vegetable medleys. The mahi mahi made an excellent leftover lunch, with the seafood's richness and the vegetables' crispness almost as good the second time around—a plus in our book.
The rack of lamb, while beautifully served, was not as tender and flavorful as expected, and the accompanying mashed potatoes had a smoky flavor that had an off taste. An extra side, a sautéed mushroom mélange, was a hearty mixture of chopped mushrooms and onions that was packed with earthy undertones.
We decided to mix things up a bit and asked for some substitutions in side dishes—the mashed potatoes, for instance, in place of potatoes au gratin, and asparagus rather than broccoli rabe. The waiter and the kitchen were most accommodating, and there was no additional charge.
Fin's desserts are house-made and pretty. We settled on the apple tart, strawberry shortcake, and white-chocolate banana bread pudding. While we were waiting for dessert, our waiter stopped by to say, "I didn't know the history of the coffee, so I put on a fresh pot." It was another example of his conscientiousness, especially late into the evening.
The apple tart was truly delicious—a crisp crust and a warm, luscious fruit filling. The strawberry shortcake was a hit, too, with grilled pound cake and balsamic reduction-coated berries topped with vanilla ice cream. We found the bread pudding lacking—it was dry and somewhat gooey. The addition of cream, however, boosted its flavor.
Fin offers a manageable wine list, with a nice selection of moderately-priced wines by the glass and bottle. It also features a classic bar and a bartender who must know his trade, judging by the excellent martinis. Adjacent to the dining room is a comfortable lounge with couches and tables. The restaurant also offers alfresco dining in the warmer months with a few tables along the Broadway side of the inn for those who want to take in the street scene.
Fin's only problem is its occasional unevenness. Bring the lamb and the bread pudding up to the level of the steaks, mahi mahi, and strawberry shortcake, and Fin will be among Fells Point's best restaurants. The atmosphere and service are already there.