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Eat Feature

The Restaurant Risk Diet

North America: Alaska, Northwest Territory, Greenland, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Western United States, Eastern United States, Central America

Michael Northrup
Michael Northrup
Restaurante El Salvador

Eat Special Issue 2003

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Posted 2/26/2003

Life, for some people, is an endless competition, and this eating program was developed with them in mind. Based on the classic "game of global domination," Restaurant Risk can be played by anywhere from two to six individuals or teams, and basically involves trying to master as much of the culinary universe as possible. This dining-out system's adherents credit Restaurant Risk for motivating them to get off their couches and out on the town, and claim that what the diet lacks in spontaneity is more than made up for with big portions.

Few games have undergone and withstood such liberal updatings and changes as has Risk. Beginning with Castle Risk (1986) and right through last year's Risk: Lord of the Rings, fans of the game have eagerly awaited and avidly discussed each evolutionary edition. Each group of players will have to decide on their own house rules for Baltimore Restaurant Risk, as well as reconfigure the 42 categories they'll be fighting over, but for convenience's sake, here we'll be using the original 42 territories--divided into six regions--from the classic Parker Brothers game, which are as follows:

Quebec? You bet. Located in a hard-to-find business park, snazzy Eggspectation (Columbia Corporate Park 100, 6010 University Blvd., Ellicott City, [410] 750-3115) is the southernmost link of a chain of breakfast-themed restaurants that originated in Montreal. The menu, which features seven preparations of eggs Benedict, along with crêpes and croque monsieur, isn't definitively representative of any cuisine, let alone that of Quebec, but, still, give yourself credit if you get there.

As for the Eastern United States, almost any crab house, delicatessen, or corner bar will do. We'll put in a plug for the Owl Bar (1 E. Chase St., [410] 347-0888), which somehow defines the concept of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. However, we'll sometimes be wracking our brains, trying to decide where to eat--someplace reliable, comfortable, and not too expensive--and then we remember this storied and resilient gathering place and head on over to the Belvedere for brick-oven specialties or fantastic burgers.

Finding a representative example from the Western United States should be similarly cinchy, and worth exploring over in Fells Point is Armadillo's Tex-Mex Café (700 S. Broadway, [410] 342-1233), where Chef George Bauer keeps the atmosphere bright and the food light. You'll also be strategically positioned to check out any one of the restaurants farther up the street that specialize in the cuisine Central America. Both Restaurante El Salvador (207 S. Broadway, [410] 522-3270) and Restaurante San Luis (246 S. Broadway, [410] 327-0266) serve typical Salvadoran food--pupusas, tripe--as well as Mexican specialties in unpretentious settings. Although your intrepid spirit will be admired, it might be better to have someone more knowledgeable about this cuisine along for your first visit, as not many accommodations are made for novices and dabblers.

We're still looking for food from the other North American territories.

A red-meat lover's churassco, the traditional Brazilian barbecue, takes center stage at the Malibu Grill (10215 Wincopin Circle, Columbia, [410] 964-5566). In addition to marinated and rotisseried meats, the restaurant features a heaving buffet of some 30 traditional hot and cold Brazilian dishes. Beyond that, the hunt for representative food from Venezuela and Argentina will present one of this game's most intriguing challenges.

At one time, Federal Hill's Boomerang Pub (1110 S. Charles St., [410] 727-2333) truly did offer a menu of Australian food. There is still an Aussie burger on the menu, and a few odd antipodal knickknacks, but we'd be very wary of allowing anyone to claim it, as a Western or Eastern Australian territory, in a game of Restaurant Risk. We'd be similarly suspicious of anyone making a case for the odd Indonesian item that turns up on various pan-Asian menus around town. When Baltimore gets an Indonesian restaurant of its own, you'll know it. A brief investigation into the national cuisine of New Guinea reveals a near universal agreement that it doesn't have a national cuisine.

To stake a claim to Great Britain, the somewhat left-field recommendation is Bertha's (734 S. Broadway, [410] 327-5795), which serves an afternoon Scottish Tea on Monday through Saturday, and serves genuine cask-conditioned ales. They also apparently serve mussels.

The cuisine of Western Europe, we think, is exemplified by a couple of French restaurants. Petit Louis Bistro (4800 Roland Ave., [410] 366-9393) has come to effortlessly inhabit its role as a smart urban bistro. The clanging noise made by urban diners is music to the ears, and such hearty bistro fare as cassoulet and a terrine of ham and parsley are essentials for winter survival. Chef Michel Tersiguel's Howard County restaurant, the beloved Tersiguel's (8293 Main St., Ellicott City, [410] 465-4004), features the rustic cuisine (escargots, farm-raised pheasant, crispy duck) of his native Brittany in a persuasively French country setting.

For Southern European cuisine, head to Café Madrid (505 S. Broadway, [410] 276-7700), where the sly and garrulous Chef Pepe will guide you through a robust Spanish meal, beginning with such zesty tapas as shrimp and garlic sauce and continuing with garlicky zarzuelas and generous paellas.

Good Eastern European restaurants seem to come and go in Baltimore, but the friendly Ze Mean Bean Café (1759 Fleet St., [410] 675-5999) has transcended such potential liabilities (to our weird way of thinking) as a silly name and live entertainment to create a winning home for stuffed cabbage, pierogis, chicken Kiev, and Ukrainian borscht.

Not surprisingly, Baltimore has no proper Icelandic restaurant, only slightly more surprisingly, no Scandinavian restaurant (we want gravlax!), and, very perplexingly, as far as we can tell, no restaurant specializing specifically in Ukrainian food, unless one counts Ze Mean Bean, which we're not sure we do.

Let's all reflect momentarily on how happy we are that Baltimore has good Afghan restaurants. The deservedly praised Helmand (806 N. Charles St., [410] 752-0311) is still the head of the class. Leek-filled ravioli, charbroiled lamb tenderloin, and that pan-fried baby pumpkin are among the enchantments in this popular Mount Vernon restaurant. Farther downtown, the Afghan Kabob House (37 S. Charles St., [410] 727-5511) serves much more affordable but still hearty fare in a spare, sunny (sometimes too sunny) building just one block from the Inner Harbor.

Japanese cuisine is likewise easy to find in Baltimore. Among the best is that found at Federal Hill's Matsuri (1105 S. Charles St., [410] 752-8561), where sushi, expertly assembled bentos, and noodle dishes come off equally well. Kawasaki's new Fells Point location (907 S. Ann St., [410] 327-9400) has not stopped fans from coming to the original Mount Vernon location (413 N. Charles St., [410] 659-7600) for impeccable sushi and tempura, served in a serene townhouse setting.

Americanized Chinese food as we know it will someday reinvent itself, or an as yet unfamiliar regional cuisine will materialize. Until then, Baltimoreans will have to content themselves with Chinatown Café (323 Park Ave., [410]727-5599)--which, considering its expansive menu of authentic entrées and dim sum, shouldn't be too tough (see separate listing on page 45).

Baltimore encompasses a number of fine Indian restaurants, including lunch-buffet faves Akbar Restaurant (823 N. Charles St., [410] 539-0944, and Mughal Garden (920 N. Charles St., [410] 547-0001) (see separate listings on page 48). But few restaurants in town can make a Restaurant Risk player feel as imperial as the Ambassador Dining Room (3811 Canterbury Road, [410] 366-1484). Located in the Tudor-style dining room of an old North Baltimore apartment building, the Ambassador serves up refined tandooris and curries in elegant surroundings, including an outdoor courtyard that ranks among the city's finest al fresco dining spaces. The Ambassador shares ownership with Federal Hill stalwart Banjara (1017 S. Charles St., [410] 752-1895); the latter can't compare in terms of atmosphere, but the food measures up.

The opening of a new Thai restaurant is always a cause for rejoicing and the latest addition to the Baltimore Thai scene, Federal Hill's Thai Arroy (1019 Light St., [410] 385-8587), distinguishes itself mainly through its cheerful and handsome storefront decor. Old standbys such as Waverly's Thai Restaurant (3316 Greenmount Ave., [410] 889-6002) and Mount Vernon's Thai Landing (1207 N. Charles St., [410] 727-1234) are where serious Thai devotees know they'll have their heat-seeking taste buds taken care of.

For Middle Eastern food, we recommend driving for Persian. The enduring Orchard Market and Café (8815 Orchard Tree Lane, Towson, [410] 339-7700) remains the area's favorite shopping-strip surprise by creating aromatic stews flavored with exotic spices like cinnamon, cumin, and ginger and mixed with such intoxicating ingredients as pomegranates and rose petals. A bit closer to town, the House of Kabob (8025 Harford Road, Parkville, [410] 663-0211) lives up to its name with an array of toothsome grilled meats and veggies, plus Persian stews and the usual assortment of Mediterranean appetizers .

Finding food from the Urals and Mongolia, not to mention Yakutsk, Kamchatka, and Irkutsk, could take years, but while you're waiting for them, you can just keep going back for more and more Thai, Indian, and Japanese food.

Egyptian food is bountiful around Baltimore, and Al Pacino Café (900 Cathedral St., [410] 962-8859), which is affiliated with the Café Isises in Pikesville and Timonium, serves dandy schwarmas and kebabs, along with a large listing of brick-oven pizza and other Middle Eastern dips and delicacies.

The complete absence in Baltimore of serious restaurants specializing in the cuisine of any part of Africa (as far as we can tell, at least) means that not only participants in Restaurant Risk but everyone who cares about good food is a big loser.

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