Monday, August 19, 2019

The Orient Perry Hall

I have often lamented the lack of good Chinese food in the Baltimore area. Oh sure, there are several carry-outs and smaller restaurants serving up Americanized food, but how many of them are actually good? As far as I'm concerned, Grace Garden in Odenton and Hunan Taste in Catonsville (which has been "temporarily" closed since at least November of 2018) are the only two that are consistently good. Szechuan House in Timonium is extremely spotty, but they have a huge menu and it is possible to find one or two decent dishes. Asian Taste in Ellicott City is good for dim sum, but we were disappointed by a recent dinner. Some folks swear by Chopstix Gourmet; we went for dim sum once and were not impressed. There's a new place in the city called Panda BBQ. I have heard positive comments, but their online menu indicates a very limited menu of mostly skewered meats and vegetables. We have gone to Galaxy Asian Cuisine for dim sum once and enjoyed it. We'll need to visit again to check out their dinner offerings.

And then there's The Orient. My family used to frequent the original Towson outpost back in the 80s and 90s. That location closed a few years ago, but there are others in Bel Air and Perry Hall. A new Towson restaurant opened a couple of years ago; we haven't been yet. The Perry Hall restaurant is right up the road from my Dad, so we have gone there a few times and haven't been disappointed.

The food is primarily American Chinese-style, but everything we've tried has been consistent and well-prepared.

We've had the crispy duck twice and have enjoyed the tender meat and salt-and-pepper seasoned skin.

The mai fun noodles can be had Singapore-style (with curry) or a simple soy sauce seasoning with meat and shrimp. They don't have as much wok hei as the same dish at Asian Court, but they are still quite good.

The Szechuan string beans, a family favorite, are still nicely crisp and green at The Orient.

We've also tried the House Crispy Pepper Squid and the whole shell-on shrimp with the same preparation (above), and have found them to be quite delectable. Shredded Crispy Beef and General Chou's have been admirable, with tender meat and a still-crisp coating, despite the sticky sauce on each.

Portions are huge, and prices are very reasonable. We've gone on Saturday afternoons and found the place abandoned, which is a shame. However, that means we get all the attention and the food arrives promptly. Though it's not Grace Garden, I am looking forward to our next trip to The Orient, mostly for the soy sauce noodles and the House Crispy Pepper seafood dishes.

Have you been?

The Orient
9545 Belair Rd
Baltimore, MD 21236
https://www.theorientmd.com/

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Flashback Friday - Meatless Monday Tomato Tart

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on August 29, 2011.

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Recently, my brother donated to us a box full of ripe tomatoes and jalapenos given to him by a coworker. Yum! I love tomatoes, but this gift was more than we could eat in the short time we had before the fruits would go bad. I knew I'd have to make several things rather quickly; the first one to come to mind was a tomato tart.

I had both puff pastry in the freezer and conventional pie crust in the fridge. Heck, I even had a box of fillo in the freezer, but I oped to use the puff because it seemed simplest. I topped it with layers of shredded cheese and caramelized onions before the gloriously-red tomatoes went on, and then sprinkled it all with some of the abundant rosemary from our garden.

The best thing about baking at 400F (especially when it's hot outside) is that the heat releases food's incredible aromas. Almost immediately, my house smelled of onions and rosemary, a fragrance that lingered enticingly for several hours, long after we cleared the dinner dishes. And the flavors? Amazing. The tomatoes were sweet to begin with, and time in the oven only served to concentrate the sugars. The bed of onion added a bit of savoriness, as did the cheese. Overall, a gorgeous thing to do with an overabundance of produce.

Tomato and Caramelized Onion Tart

About 3 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
1 cup onion, thinly sliced
olive oil
salt
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/2 cup shredded Asiago cheese
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves

Cut the tomatoes into about 1/4" thick slices, sprinkle them with a bit of kosher salt and place them on paper towel-lined plates with another towel on top. Allow to rest for about half an hour to absorb excess water. In the meantime...

...in a large skillet over medium heat, cook onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt until they are very soft and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Roll pastry out about a half inch larger on all sides and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Leaving a 3/4" inch border on all edges, first sprinkle cheese on pastry, then top with an even layer of cooled, caramelized onions. Finally, arrange tomato slices over onions, overlapping very slightly. Scatter rosemary over all.

Bake in preheated 400F oven for 4 minutes until pastry is golden brown and the tomatoes have started to shrivel quite a bit.

Serve hot or at room temperature.


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Monday, August 12, 2019

Cypriana

When Cypriana was downtown, sprinkled here and there in office buildings and in the University of Maryland hospital, they specialized in things like kebabs and salads. I loved their Greek salad, the typical inauthentic pile of lettuce with cucumbers and tomatoes, topped with a generous amount of feta cheese and a cup of creamy tarragon dressing on the side. The dressing really made it.

A few years back, they closed their fast casual restaurants and opened a full-service place in the Broadview apartments, former home to the venerable French restaurant Jeannier's, among others. I'm not sure why we put off going for so long, but this spring we finally paid Cypriana a visit. It was a pleasant evening, so we asked to sit on the patio, which may or may not have been a good idea. The restaurant's patio is divided into two areas, one more loungy, and the other for dining. After we were seated, we noticed a lot of musical tables and chairs being played by a trio of people who were apparently hosting a graduation party. They never seemed particularly satisfied with the number of tables pushed together or the chairs arranged around them, and the whole thing got uncomfortably close to where we were seated. As in, perhaps one of us would get smacked with a heavy metal table or chair. Fortunately, seating arrangements were resolved before I felt we had to move out of the way.

But then the kids happened.

There must have been a large party inside, one with many small children. Many small children who decided to run around outside on the patio. A patio that is actually a large balcony. Had any of those children been curious enough to climb the short wall to see what was on the other side of the balcony (a drop into a courtyard), there may have been a tragedy. One parent was outside briefly, sitting on a chair and playing with his phone while the children ran in and out of not only the dining room entrance, but also the ramp into the kitchen entrance. Bad enough they caused a ruckus on the lounge section of the patio, but they also decided to run around in the increasingly more crowded dining section, hiding behind tables and running around servers with full trays of food.

And nobody said a word to anyone.

I'm not sure why half a dozen kindergartners were allowed to run around largely unsupervised in a restaurant. I don't understand why parents cannot parent their children.

Anyway...Cypriana is lucky that neither of us got belted by a chair or had food spilled on us by a waiter who had to avoid rugrats. And the food was good.

We mostly stuck with mezzedes, small plates. We tried the spinach and feta flatbread, which was crispy and melty and nicely cheesy.

Also the beef- and lamb-stuffed grape leaves. They were much larger than normal grape leaves, and really very nice, with flavorful filling and tender leaves. They were supposed to come with a yogurt sauce that our waiter forgot, promised to bring, but never did. I suppose they didn't need it.

The sesame roasted feta was drizzled with honey and served with fresh hot pita. I love baked cheese, and could have eaten a few more slabs of this stuff.

We also had the "Mousaka of Cypress," a small and unphotogenic ramekin with layers of eggplant, zucchini, potato, and a beef and lamb mixture, covered in a dreamy bechamel. It was quite possibly the best moussaka I have ever had.

We tried one entree dish of tender grilled octopus served with a cucumber salad (called tabouli on the menu) and some red quinoa, which brought nothing to the plate. The octopus itself was very nice. I tried dipping it in the container of what appeared to be plain, unseasoned, red wine vinegar, and felt that it was fine on its own.

We couldn't pass on dessert, especially when pistachio sea salt baklava was on offer. Made as individual pieces rather than in a large pan, it made for a much neater serving, though it was a bit difficult to cut into bite-sized pieces. The flavor was very good though.

The menu lists the chocolate rose cake as "layers of dark chocolate cake with rich Belgian chocolate and edible roses with a semi-sweet fudge icing." I figured the "edible roses" were made of frosting, but no, there was a definite rose flavor to the cake, and pulverized rose petal dust garnished the plate. I never would pair chocolate with rose, and while it worked here, I still probably won't pair those two strong flavors. The cake was otherwise moist and quite good.

I have mixed feelings about Cypriana. While by and large the food we had was good, the service was meh (still waiting on that yogurt sauce!) and the rugrat disturbance was pretty inexcusable. I can perhaps understand that management might not have wanted to upset their customers by asking them to mind their own brats (Really? I actually do not understand it at all.) but why sacrifice the enjoyment of the other diners?

Cypriana
105 W 39th Street
Baltimore, MD 21210

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Friday, August 09, 2019

Flashback Friday - Chiapparelli's

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This post originally appeared on Minxeats.com on August 31, 2011.

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When I was a kid, growing up in Fells Point, a trip to Little Italy (or, as we pronounced it, "Lil Lily") was usually reserved for special occasions. Once in a while we'd get a pizza from DiNitti's, or a bag of ossa di morte ("bones of the dead" - very hard, clove-flavored cookies) from Vaccaro's, but we wouldn't have a sit-down dinner at any of our favorite red-sauce joints unless it was for a special reason. Ok, so sometimes the occasion was merely that we wanted to get dressed up and go out to eat. If we felt really fancy, we'd go to Vellegia's, which seemed to us to be the poshest restaurant in the area, otherwise we'd go to Sabatino's or Chiapparelli's.

Vellegia's is gone now, but Chip's and Sab's live on. Recently, Chip's offered a Groupon, which I snatched up, knowing that Mr Minx had never experienced any of the classic Little Italy restaurants. We had an opportunity to use it for his birthday - a very special occasion indeed.

While offering many of the same classics as every other restaurant in the neighborhood (ravioli, veal Parmesan, chicken Marsala), Chip's menu has been modernized a bit and offers new classics like stuffed portobello mushrooms and grilled salmon, along with crab cakes and a rib-eye for those weirdos who go to Italian restaurants but not to eat Italian food. Don't get me wrong - Chip's is still very much an old-school restaurant: the bread basket contained squishy Italian bread and a handful of prepackaged butter pats. You'll find no plates of artisinal olive oil enhanced with house-dried herbs here! And every entrée automatically comes with the famous garlic-and-cheese-laden Chiapparelli's salad, practically a meal in itself.

Once upon a time, Italian restaurants suggested ordering a pasta course AND a meat course, but since most Americans consider pasta a dinner unto itself, that's usually not the case anymore. But how could we dine at a restaurant that makes its own pasta and not have a pasta course? We opted to split an order of the "besto pesto" - the classic Genoese basil/pine nut/parm purée, mixed with a judicious amount of cream (that the menu, in a bit of reverse exaggeration, describes as a "touch"), coating strands of nicely toothsome maccherone. The dish is also available with chicken or shrimp, but I think the dish was plenty decadent without the addition of protein.

Honestly, after the giant salad and the rich pasta, I could have called it quits, but I had ordered an entrée, too. While not normally a fan of veal, I was in the mood for brasciole. Chip's version is rolled with some prosciutto and served with a generous portion of old-school potato gnocchi and a brightly-flavored marinara. Because it's so easy to make tough gnocchi, I find that most cooks try too hard to achieve the opposite effect. Eating a bowl of squishy pillows can occasionally get boring. One bite of Chiapparelli's gnocchi, however, took me instantly back to my childhood, to gnocchi that actually required chewing, and that occasionally caused an upset tummy after overindulgence. This is a good thing. Too much of one, it seems, because after three pieces of pasta and a quarter of the meat, I was done.

Mr Minx didn't have as difficult a time scarfing down most of his veal Saltimbocca, with spinach, proscuitto, and Parmesan in a Marsala wine sauce that tasted as if it contained a (un)healthy amount of butter. While not the most elegant version of saltimbocca, it was a hearty, rib-sticking dish, with tender veal and perfectly-cooked spinach.

We opted not to have dessert at Chip's, but after learning that it was Mr Minx's birthday, our (lovely, accomodating, and very suave) waiter brought a house-made mini cannoli as a sweet little gift to end the meal.

We went home that evening very full, quite content, and reeking of garlic. And with a large bag of leftovers (including an entire salad, since the pasta dish was considered an entrée) that would constitute my lunch for the remainder of the week. I don't know why we don't eat in Little Italy more often. Next time - Sab's.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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