...Give This Unsung Pikesville Eatery A Go
Try's Asian Fusion serves superior, interesting, and even challenging food in a very pretty, comfortable dining room. The restaurant has a following, but not enough of one--it appears to be struggling in its unprepossessing parking-lot location, which is a shame. It should be mobbed, and if it were downtown, it probably would be.
The dining rooms are a cut above the norm--curtains of bamboo chains, a profusion of neutral tones, damask-covered chairs, and screened lighting fixtures make them feel designed, finished. The printed menu, enclosed in leatherette, doesn't do Try's any favors. Wheat and chaff run together, and it takes some time and effort to separate the dishes that are striving either for authenticity and originality from the entry-level items. Still, challenge-welcoming diners will notice such tempters as crispy pork intestine, spicy duck's tongue, steamed whole eel, and Shanghai-style cold spicy jellyfish. Dishes arrive with unadvertised, and rarely encountered elsewhere.
Even the menu items that appear to be midlevel adventures are undersold and coy. Succulent Thai eggplants show up in a spicy hot pot ($16.95) with mushrooms and full-on-fat saté beef, adding variety to what is elsewhere a monotony of flavor and texture. A special seafood dinner, stir-fried sea murex ($16.95), neglects to mention its thoughtful and perfect addition of rarely seen (around here) chive blossoms, the mildness of which complements the subtlety of the murex. Murex? Think conch, but more tender and lustrous.
A favorite appetizer was the giant pile of Hong Kong "fisherman style" fried eggplant ($9.95), sliced thin, breaded, topped with roasted garlic, and fried lightly, in which the best qualities of that tricky vegetable were preserved and its offness eradicated. Close behind was the had-to-be-homemade spicy kimchi ($6.95), which actually looked pretty, the white cabbage having been cut into thick slices, topped with vivid chile peppers. It tasted clean.
Two appetizers divided diners; some saw assets in what others perceived as flaws. A Fujian oyster cake ($11.95) tended toward mushiness, and its pungent and briny flavors were either off-putting or refreshingly unabashed. The strips of braised beef that enveloped small spears of asparagus ($9.95) were, depending on who was eating, either thick, tough, and greasy, or full of real cow flavor. Pan-fried pork dumplings ($5.15) were pleasant but ultimately inessential.
Entrées impressed deeply. There was the stir-fried murex, which succeeded with lightness and balance, a play of pale color and tender textures. And, at the other extreme, the hot pot, with intense chile flavor permeating the noodle-filled beefy broth. Here, again, what appeared to be fatty beef is instead an asset--a maker of flavor. The concept of fusion, which at first sounds misapplied, starts to make sense here, too--the noodles are different, thinner, than in the typical Korean version.
The Thai spicy green curry with thinly sliced pork ($13.95) tastes, too, unlike a traditional version, with more floral tones and a pleasurable depth. Like the other dishes, it feels freshly prepared, in small batches. A hibachi preparation of black-pepper scallops is superb, with a profusion of beautifully prepared peppers and onions, the scallops themselves meltingly sweet, treated with just enough pepper to arouse their flavor but not so much to obscure it.
Even a kung-pao shrimp dish ($14.95)--which, like the pork dumplings, feels retrospectively like an opportunity squandered--impresses with its carefully diced vegetables and its refusal to descend into take-out gloppiness.
The proprietor of Try's pulled serving duty our night, and she seemed so happy to see visitors from downtown. She believes, with reason, that her family is pushing Asian cuisine forward, and that diners who have been looking for the next, new thing will eventually find Try's.
The location isn't helping. The menu, which makes perhaps too many concessions to tepid tastes, doesn't either. Moreover, there is reason to be concerned about too many customers deciding to give Try's a chance on the same night--the staff has been scaled back to accommodate the slow dining season. Bar service was already problematic on this visit, and the specialty drinks were overly sweet and weak. But these quibbles are small things. Try it.
Open daily for lunch and dinner. Closed Tuesdays. Hang up your hang-ups: email@example.com.