Sunday, February 14, 2016

Chopstix Gourmet

I must apologize for the infrequent posting here. It is not that new and exciting places have not been visited needing review, it is that I have gotten complacent about writing reviews. I am hoping to change that.

I love dim sum. The daughter of a (American)Chinese restaurant owner told me some top secret tips. Hello??? How is it top secret if you are telling me???
I was told this is where the Chinese restaurant owners go to eat. I was also told that because I was white, I might be the only white guy there. The best part about what I was told is that no one knows about it. 

Located at 1201 67th Street, Rosedale Maryland, in a light industrial complex is  Chopstix Gourmet. It is kind of easy to find once you get past the labor union hall, the oxygen distribution facility, and the industrial fasters distributor. 

You go in this entrance. Around the right side is an indoor parking garage. You can catch a shuttle to the Horse Shoe Casino from here. Go, gamble a while, return for a meal, then head back to double down. I didn't come to gamble, I came for underground, restaurant owner dim sum. I came to find out about the  top secret dim sum parlor of east Baltimore.

When you enter, do not get confused by the long hall way that looks to go no where. Just keep walking even though your confusion is telling you you are lost and this cannot be the place.

Now it is looking familiar.  I must confess I have a new way of judging a place; I go to the bathroom before I am seated. The bathroom here was sparkling clean. Actually the entire place was. This is rather contrary to the worn out, tired status of just about all Chinese restaurants visits with exception of Hunan Taste.

We came to eat but would be remise in saying this place has some fantastic fish tanks and pond set ups. Make sure you take the time to walk around and take them in. They are above door ways, as room separations, and as feature displays. 

This place is no secret, it feeds hundreds of people in a day, I am just late in hearing about it. There are multiple dining rooms all filled to the rim with diners. This place is not only where all the Chinese restaurant owners come, but all their friends and their friends too. I was far from the only white person there. There were people of many ethnic groups dining there. One thing that is typical of this place is that it is incredibly busy. The staff moves at a frantic pace but is ever so attentive to the few moments they give you. I did noticed they do not show you everything on the cart unless you make them. It is assumed you will not want the chicken feet or fishballs(balls made of fish not balls of the fish) in curry sauce. 

Usually the first few carts fill up our table because we cannot help but say yes to everything. We tried something different this time to force pace ourselves; one item, per cart at any time.  I highly recommend doing it this way. The ladies behind the carts are not so happy, they want you to take as many as they can offer you. 
I must say that everything we tried was better than any place we have had dim sum before. I am not an expert by any means, but of the 18 or so places we have had dim sum, this was the tastiest yet. Even the tea was better than any place we had been before. Nothing was unique. Nothing on the menu was different than anyplace we had been before, but everything just tasted so much better here. My only real complaint was that the selection of items was not the greatest. Perhaps were were not shown everything, but none the less the selection was rather limited.  It was incredibly busy when we walked in. It kind of thinned out after we sat down, then got busy again as we were leaving. Perhaps the offerings increased with the next wave of people.

Two items I must rave about; 
To the left is a soft rice noodle sheet stuffed with roast pork. Some places call this a crepe. That sucker was intensely good. The pork was just so tender and flavored strongly. It was just the best thing we had. I kept hoping for the shrimp version of it to come around. It never did. 
To the right is something I see in just about every dim sum place. I suspect it is an Americanized item closely related to General Tao chicken and egg of young and having nothing to do with China proper. It is a shrimp ball wrapped in bacon.  It is fried. Anything wrapped in bacon is good. The shrimp ball filling however is very good on it's own. At most places the filling is just shrimp. Here it has more, it has great mouth appeal. 
I should also say the beef short ribs in black bean rocked. 
The chicken feet were awesome. Fairly meaty.
The turnip cake was fair. I like a little more pork and a little more crisp to the outside.
The beef tendon tasted great but had a texture that just did not sit well with me. We tried it, but would probably avoid trying it again.

She is giving it a big thumbs up. We will be back again very soon.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Asian Court, Ellicott City.

Asian Court is located at 9180 Baltimore National Pike in Ellicott City, Maryland. Asian Court is known as a Chinese restaurant for Chinese people. Their menu is very ethnic and foreign to many who frequent a typical Chinese restaurant. We have eaten here about a dozen times in the past few years. Places that serve dim sum are few and far between in Baltimore. Needless to say, China Court is a very popular place  because of this. I believe it must have been featured in a review recently because usually the crowd is mostly Chinese. Not this Sunday, it was about 50/50. We arrived early to beat the crowd but even at 11 am it was completely packed and the wait was at least 10 minutes for a table(30 by the time we left). We were seated at a booth right next to the reception desk. This posed a series of issues I will lay out for you. The first issue was that every 10 seconds the door opened and yet another family squeezed into the already packed waiting area. The wind would whip right in and hit us. This forced us to eat with our coats on.

Another issue with our table, was that the carts barely ever came by. After the first cart came with virtually nothing on it it was a full 20 minutes before we ever saw another one. During that time the fork and the glass of water we requested for our 7 year old never came even though I politely asked three times. Eventually I just got up, walked across the room and helped myself. 

Then all the carts came at one time. And went right on by our table.

They could not see us however because the crowd waiting for tables were literally blocking us from the rest of the room.  The next booth in had the exact same issue. I had to stand up and wave my arms above the crowd to get the ladies to see we wanted service. At one point the crowd pushed in so close that a husband and wife sat there butts on the edge of our table. I jabbed the man's butt with my chopstick to point out the rudeness of his actions. 

Previously, we have had a fairly good experience at Asian Court. We have looked past the grimy interior. We have pretended we did not notice the filthy bathrooms. When a dirty plate or glass was put on our table we have always politely asked for a clean one. We even pretended not to notice that the Chinese patrons are served and seated first, this is an ethnic restaurant, you expect that to some degree. Unfortunately, this time, our experience could not be over looked. We will never return to this place.

Rating 1-5? 0.5 

I am sorry to my readers. I never panned a restaurant like this. It was however a very bad experience. I would hate for you to have the same experience.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Papi's, FellsPoint

Papi's is located on Aliceanna Street at Broadway Avenue right in the heart of Fells Point. It is very easy to find. Unlike most Mexican restaurants in Fells Point, Papi's is for the hipster, 20 something crowd. You are not finding any day labors enjoying a plate of mixed pork street tacos here. It is gourmet street tacos and expensive margaritas.

Beef short ribs street tacos.I kind of chuckle at the thought of that.  Hominy as a side dish. A roasted jalapeƱo  pepper. Mezcal margarita. It was all good, it just comes off as overly produced.

Shrimp tacos. Maggi sauce. Prickly pear margarita. 

Would I return? Yes, if Cynthia asked us to meet her there again. Would I go on my own? No, there are great street tacos for 1/5th the cost within blocks.

3.5 of 5

Friday, March 6, 2015

Fiesta Mexicana

Fiesta Mexicana located at 8304 Philadelphia Road. That's Rosedale Maryland folks. Don't blink as you go by since the place does not really jump out at you. Nothing on Philadelphia Road does.

The interior does not really jump out at you either. The owner however is a very colorful guy, extremely proud of the food his restaurant puts out. The comida is typical of Ciudad de Mexico.

I usually expect a little grocery sideline in places like this. They just do a few Mexican candies for the kids and the food. 

The decor is simple but clean and well organized. I did not come for the organization or the clean kitchen, I came for the food. I was handed a menu but said, "No, you surprise me. I want a good lunch" The only question was 'you like hot?' 

Out came three tacos, a bowl of beans, and a cup of salsa. The first taco was tinga. This is chicken stewed with red chilies. I have had tinga a number of times but never has the chicken been so tender. I put a bunch of that salsa on the taco.  Not only were my taste buds doing a happy dance but I was sweating a little too.

Next up was chorizo. I don't know if it was home made chorizo but It was very good. I do not usually go for chorizo. I did not order it so the surprise was a welcome thing. The salsa had me sweating here again too.

Last up was a taco bistex. That is Mexican(no derogatory intended) for beef of some sort of cut. Laying with this delicious beef were two slivers of roasted green chilies. I once again added some of that salsa. I needed a second sweat rag due to this almost costly discretion. The green chilies were hot in major way and I was on a capsicum trip for about five minutes.

Some highlights of the meal; That salsa. Wicked good stuff! This is manly stuff, not for the faint of heart. Your going to break a bead of sweat eating this stuff.

I have to talk about those beans. I have eaten a lot of beans in my life. I have eaten a lot of black beans for that matter. These black beans were the best I have ever had. Seriously, they were beyond good. You think I am joking?

Rating? Solid 10

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Hunan Taste, Catonsville MD

I will first apologize for the quality of images in this post. I did not have my camera and instead used my phone. My phone is not a camera, it is a phone. The first image is also not mine, I lifted it from a Tripadvisor review of this same restaurant.

Hunan Taste has been a long over due review. We have eaten here well over 40 times since it opened a few years back. That statement alone is a review in itself. I have a frequent diner card, so I will try not to show any bias.
Hunan taste is located in the very busy H Mart Plaza at 718 North Rolling Rd or Route 40 and Rolling road. I say very busy as a note of caution. The drivers in this parking lot are generally oblivious to other drivers or pedestrians. Many are still becoming accustomed to driving in America. Do not let this stop you. Do not let anything stop you from coming and trying this place out. In Baltimore, this is my favorite place to eat. 
When you walk in you will notice a few things that sets this place apart from your normal Chinese restaurant; It is always spotless. Your host is always dressed in a fine suit and greats you in a sophisticated manor. The decor is very sophisticated and inviting. It is always bustling with diners. Just about everyone is Chinese. All the wait staff is very professional and unobtrusive. All the wait staff have American names. There are two menus, and this place gives you both. 
Seven of us gathered for a meal the other night and we were all adventure eaters. We ate family style.

We started with two appetizers. The first was Pigs Ears. It was incredible to look at. It tasted equally as incredible. Very tender and delicious. It was not what you would think pigs ears would taste like. If I were to put it in front of you, not telling what it was, you would have no clue. You would just think it is tremendous. 

The second appetizer was Garlic Pork Belly. Incredible. Nothing more needs to be said.

We had Twin Lobster. Two lobsters fried in garlic. Incredible once again. The one negative thing I must say is when the lazy susan went around the first time it was moist and succulent. However as it sat, the meat got kind of dry and crispy. I recommend eating it all when it arrives at the table.

We had Dry Green Beans and Pork. If you want to feel you are getting your vegetables, order this. The pork is a nice touch to a vegetable side dish.

There was Whole Perch Hunan Style. I had the head. One of my dinner mates was a little shyer than me and I beat him to it. I love the cheeks and head meat. The combination of flavors was tremendous.

Missing from these photos is Pork in Incense Mint. This was a texture dish. The pork was twice cooked, the second being fried, so it was kind of chewy. The meat had excellent flavor to it. It was on a bed of crispy fried mint. The mint was so beautiful, looking like bright green glass. Unfortunately the mint did not have any taste and was more of a texture because it shattered in your mouth. Of all the items, this was my least favorite dish since the mint failed to have the flavor you thought you might get from it. I did not however dislike this dish.

Chefs always look for empty plates. Empty plates mean the food was so good it all was eaten. Every plates were empty.

If you want really good Chinese food, come here. Do not come here for General Taos Chicken, Egg Foo Young, and Lo Mein. This is real Chinese food for Chinese people. All the food has incredible flavor, intense Hunan heat, and items you have never tried before. Come, be adventurous and try something you never have seen before.

On a scale of 1-10... a rating of ELEVEN.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

El Agave, Catonsville MD

Catonsville has a new Mexican joint. The restaurant has been open just a few months and seems to be very popular. Everyone loves Mexican, what's not to love. 

The space has been a few different 'package goods bar Inn' type joints over the years. The new owners have really changed it up. 

The decor is bright and cheerful. The entire place is sparkling clean and very inviting. If you are a sports fan the bar area has a number of big TVs with some game going.

We got some guacamole. It was very, very good. Most times I dread when my wife orders it because hers is so good. El Agave's held pretty strong. The salsa that came with the chips was good too. It was unusually light and fresh tasting. 

Halle loves any place with a mango jarritos. 

I have to say that the margarita was better than most. It was strong and did not have a ton of ice in it. The bar tender knows that tequila makes the customers happy and generous.

So, the food; I love Mexican food. To be able to get real tacos is a big bonus to me. They have a great offering of fish, shrimp, carne asada, barbacoa, chorizo, chicken, (now it gets good and what you see above) lengua(tongue), carnaza(beef cheek). These street tacos were spot on. They even roasted some jalapeƱos upon my request. This is the food of the owners and what they do well. They are Mexican and this is real Mexican food. The owners want to make it and the menu reflects what 'most' love about 'Mexican'. They love chimichangas, burritos, and hard tacos. Those items are on the menu and it was those items people around me were all ordering. I strongly suspect that the TexMex menu will dominate and become the main stay of this place in the future. I have seen this trend with many places. The gringos are the customers and they have their expectations of what Mexican food is. I saw this happen to the last Mexican restaurant that opened in Catonsville, El Nayar. It went TexMex and a year later it had lost its zing and was gone. I hope El Agave maintains it's Mexican menu. If it does, we will gladly return as regulars.

Rating 8

Bowens Island Restaurant. Charleston, SC

We were in Charleston South Carolina and wanted some good seafood. The lady at the campground suggested we go to Bowens Island Restaurant at 1870 Bowens Island Rd for as local feel. Now, the restaurant is at the end of a dirt road and before you get there you will think you have gotten lost.

This is a real fish house. Simple menu of just a few items. They serve their oysters by the lunch tray and they are only come steamed. We went with other items since we do not care for our oysters steamed. All their beer is draft and it is all local.

You order at the bar and wait for your name to be shouted out. It takes about as long as drinking a nice cold draft beer. The beer was excellent.

Beth had the shrimp and grits. It was very tasty. It even had a little bit of heat to it. The portion was very generous.

The rest of us stuck to the fried seafood plates. Shrimp, fish, crab cake, french fries, hush puppies, and cole slaw. This was so much food I could not eat it all. It was damn good too. Just what you expect from a real fish house. Now this place was not cheap, but it sure was good. The best tasting shrimp I have had in a long time.

Rating, perfect 10