Wok on the Mild Side
Jasmine Asian Bistro Barely Brings the Heat
This location is closed
We were unimpressed with Jasmine Asian Bistro, a new pan-Asian restaurant on the Recher Theatre block in Towson. Little commanded our attention, absorbed our senses, made us go, “Oh, you’ve got to taste this.” The food here was, on the whole, presented with finesse; the calm ambiance was saved barely from dispiriting ordinariness by an attentive staff. But the lower-priced lunch menu (typical wok dishes run about $5.25) merits at least a look from nearby office workers and returning students.
We wish we’d tried more from the dozen or so fusion entrées, which probably reflect better the capabilities and ambitions of the chef, Andy Chen. They sound full of potential: Pan-seared, prosciutto-wrapped red snapper with bok choy and sweet potato purée ($15.95), lemon grass-crusted tuna ($17.95), crispy duck in Thai red curry sauce ($14.95). On the other hand, our choices, from the lower-priced (by half) regions of the menu might reflect the choices of real-life, budget-conscious diners.
Even the one fusion entrée we did get to try, a grilled salmon with ginger black bean sauce ($15.95), wasn’t the best gauge of the kitchen’s talent. The sauce complemented the fish without overwhelming it. Maybe this summer’s abundant availability of wild salmon has spoiled us, but the dish came across as familiar and ordinary.
The balance of the menu, including soups, salads, rice and noodle dishes, and 15 options from the wok, represent a culinary race across Asia, with stops in Beijing, Kuala Lampur, Bangkok, Singapore, and Tokyo, whose contribution to American pan-Asian restaurant cuisine is the sushi bar in the corner. The one thing we tried there—the Jasmine roll ($9), filled with lobster claw, avocado, cucumber, fish roe, and chives—suggested a creative and agile hand, but it was drizzled with a “spicy mayo” that tasted like French dressing.
We began with the miso ($1.50) and won ton ($1.50) soups. That nourishing vegan starter, the miso, notably sweet, drenched in seaweed, was pronounced the best in Towson by a friend who works nearby and lunches out a lot. The won ton soup, meanwhile, was not too salty and the one big won ton was meaty. The Thai spicy beef salad ($6.95) tossed cucumbers, bell pepper, and too many onions with beef in an excellent dressing—spicy hot, with pungent anchovy flavor from its fish sauce base. The beef was too tough, though, and had little flavor. A lack of seasoning to their ground pork stuffing kept us from fully enjoying nicely fried plump pork dumplings ($4.50). Steamed spinach dumplings ($4.25), vivid green wrappers stuffed with spinach, fell into that evening’s broadest critical response category: not special. The highest praise for starters went to the vegetable tempura ($5.95), firmly coated and greaselessly fried taro, broccoli, sweet potato, and a perfect green pepper ring.
Malaysian tamarind chicken ($8.95) was a bad choice of entrée, its sweet and sour sauce far too cloying for our tastes. The abundance of sliced breast meat here should satisfy white-meat fans, and curse them, because the bland white chicken, again in abundance, was the only bad thing about the Singapore angel noodles ($8.95), a heaping and satisfying plateful of vermicelli liberally and thoroughly tossed with a warm curried coating. Crispy sesame honey chicken ($11.75) offered a dozen or so coated nuggets of much more flavorful chicken. Best of all the entrées: eggplant and tofu with black bean sauce ($8.95), a hearty and healthily conceived vegan choice, tofu fried crispy, eggplant baked tender, the sauce elevating and uniting the dish.
We’d go back to Jasmine Asian Bistro if we were planning to be in Towson for a concert or movie. But considering some misadventures, I’m not sure we’d rush back.