Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Orchard Market & Cafe

Does anyone remember Orchard Market & Cafe, Baltimore's "premiere Persian restaurant?" I say "remember," even though the place is still around, because I seldom hear anything about it. Seriously, when was the last time you ate there? I think the one and only time we tried it - at the suggestion of my Mother - was in the early 1990s; the food was very good so I don't know why we never returned.

I thought it was high time for a revisit, especially since Mr Minx has never been. Apparently his aunt and uncle eat there all the time - not quite encouraging, but not discouraging, either.

Orchard Market is a bit difficult to find if one doesn't know where to look. It's down Orchard Tree Lane off Joppa Road, near the Guitar Center and Orchard Landing, not far from Loch Raven Boulevard. Unassuming from the outside, the interior of the restaurant is quite pretty, decorated in soothing shades of cream and dark celadon, with tapestries and replicas of Persian art on the walls, and more art that appears to be for sale.

The restaurant had only one other occupied table when we arrived, and the couple seated there were busily chewing the ear of the waitress/hostess before she managed to break away and lead us to a table. We were brought menus and glasses of water, but not offered anything else to drink (the place is BYOB).

We started off with appetizers:

Mr Minx ordered the Mango Shrimp (Jumbo shrimp sauteed with onions and vegetables in a unique mango chutney and garlic sauce). I thought it would be overpoweringly sweet, but it was actually well-balanced. The shrimp was full of iodine flavor (something we very much enjoy, YMMV) and the sauce contained little bits of mango.

My Sauteed Bulgarian Feta (Pungent Bulgarian Feta melted over farm tomatoes, onions, and black olives) looked nearly identical to the other dish, except for the olives. Although I feared the sauce was the same, it was only in color. Mine was tangy, somewhat tomato-y. The feta was not pungent, and I would have liked more of it, but otherwise the dish was tasty. With a salad, it would make a fine lunch. My biggest criticism of these two dishes is that the pita had been toasted, making it somewhat difficult with which to scoop the sauce.

I was intrigued by the description for Seafood Advieh, as was Mr Minx (Mahi mahi, shrimp, and scallops sauteed and served with a mango and honey-based advieh sauce). The intense blood-red sauce had an interesting sweet-sour flavor punctuated by cinnamon and rose petals. It was a bit too sweet for my taste. The mahi-mahi was well-cooked and bland enough to work with the intense sauce, but the iodine of the shrimp didn't work as well. The two small scallops in the dish were fishy-tasting and tough.

Mr Minx had the  more traditional Duck Fesenjune (Orange-poached leg and breast of duck with the classic Persian walnut-pomegranate sauce). The one time I had eaten at Orchard Market I had ordered this dish; today's version was not at all what I remembered, nor was it like the fesenjune sauce I had made a few years ago. It seemed to me that the duck had not been cooked with the sauce, so there was no integration of flavors. And the large quantity of grated orange peel on top of the meat was overpowering and rather sweet. The sauce itself was gritty with crushed nuts and lacked richness.  I found it to be quite disappointing.

While we were eating, several other parties arrived, all regular or semi-regular customers. The owner came in and helped to wait tables, and another waitress came out from the back, but somehow we suddenly felt ignored. Our water glasses remained empty for a while, and it didn't seem like they were too anxious to take our money once we finally had our check. It's always nice to be a regular customer and receive a bit of extra attention, but that doesn't work so well for the newbies. And when I'm ignored, I probably won't end up being a repeat customer.

Overall, our experience at Orchard Market did not match the one from my memory, but it is true that the restaurant is under different ownership these days, which may account for the difference in food. Will we go back? Well, it might be interesting to try the kabob dishes, but there are other restaurants to be visited. If you go, or have been recently, I'd love to hear about your experience.

Orchard Market & Café
8815 Orchard Tree Lane
Towson, Maryland 21204
(410) 339-7700

Orchard Market & Cafe on Urbanspoon
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