Sideburns and Szechwan
Asian food especially caught on in the '70s. Historically, Baltimore has been thin on great Asian restaurants, but Korean groceries and eateries have taken root around lower Charles Village. Nam Kang (2126 Maryland Ave.,  685-6237) is where many Baltimoreans first sampled kimchi and other Korean delights. Despite a turnover in ownership and staff, the ultra-spicy jampong (seafood noodle soup) still makes your nose run, and the equally fiery kimchi jigue (pork and kimchi stew) is a winner. Soothe the throat with the pajeon, an enormous, salty pancake stuffed with seafood and scallions.
U-Jung Kwan (12-16 W. 20th St.,  230-0423) is another Koreatown favorite, and not just at City Paper (it copped our Best Korean Restaurant honors last year). The place is usually full of business-suited Korean men hanging out around tables full of empty plates and bottles (but overflowing ash trays). U-Jung serves terrific panchan, the endless variety of tiny side dishes that arrive while you wait for your entrée; we especially like the seasoned bean sprouts, watercress salad, salty-sweet mung beans, and, of course, the kimchi. The dol sot bi bim bab is ideal--rice, beef, and vegetables (bean sprouts, carrots, and spinach) topped with an egg, served sizzling in a stone bowl with plenty of incendiary red pepper sauce.
Saigon Remembered (5857 York Road,  435-1200) is the city's newest Vietnamese restaurant--not that the field was crowded. It's fragrant pho features beef broth with meatballs or strips of beef, rice noodles and, for contrast, fresh, cold bean spouts, cilantro, and scallions--striking the balance between warm and cool, cooked and raw, that Vietnamese food depends on.
Thai restaurants are more widespread here. Chief among them is, aptly enough, Thai Restaurant (3316 Greenmount Ave.,  889-6002). New ownership has rejuvenated the dowager of all Baltimore Thai restaurants. This Waverly eatery's pad Thai is the best around; the yellow curry with coconut, milk, tomatoes, and pineapple and the delicately sweet shrimp mee krob are good bets for lunch or dinner. Finish with the sticky rice with mango, and thank us later.
Thai One On (10 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Towson,  825-0907) is umbilically linked with San Sushi Too, but the Thai part of the menu overpowers the OK sushi. Go for the incendiary goong ma now, a cold shrimp dish heated with red chile, or the green papaya salad that gives new weight to the description "hot and sour." The drunken noodles, a sweet-savory (and hot) dish, is well balanced; for dessert, the black rice with young coconut meat is not to be missed.
The diminutive Thairish (804 N. Charles St.,  752-5857), a six-stool café in Mount Vernon, thoughtfully divides the menu into meat and vegetarian categories, and into hot and medium. It's largely a one-man show--owner Kerrigan Kitikul is either banging pans himself to make a masterful pad Thai or panang curry, or watching closely as a trainee tries to approximate his pan-banging. Be warned: Kitikul may interpret requests for substitutions as a challenge to his authority.
Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China marked the resumption of Sino-American diplomatic relations. It also marked a resurgence of American interest in all things Chinese, particularly food. Folks stateside were startled to find that there was more to Chinese cuisine than the mild (and usually bastardized) Cantonese dishes everyone had always known. All of a sudden, chow mein was out and Szechwan was in, in, in, baby.
Baltimore alone must have resisted détente, because this town has a longstanding shortage of good Chinese food, in any category. With a few exceptions, diners have to hunt for good dishes at different restaurants on a case-by-case basis. Maybe it's heretical to say this, but the Chinese food that inspires our confidence the most these days is found at an all-you-can-eat joint in the county. At Imperial Gourmet 2014 E. Joppa Road, Carney,  668-7578), the food is freshly prepared and constantly replenished. The usual suspects (cashew chicken, Hunan beef with broccoli) are present and accounted for, in light and likeable versions. But the 130-plus-item spread also offers steamed taro-root dumplings, frog legs with basil, and a "house special roll" of chicken, pork, and vegetables wrapped in springy tofu skin. Plus, there's sushi, a raw bar, and a hibachi grill--pick ingredients from a refrigerated assortment and Chef Sonny will whip up custom stir-fry on the spot. And the place is blessed with a liquor license.
More formal Chinese is available at Bamboo House (30 Cranbrook Road, Cockeysville  666-9550). The trek pays off with wonderfully crispy orange duck, its sauce infused with peel, and a fine double-cooked pork. For the Szechwan dishes marked as spicy, though, you'll need to request extra heat.
Some diners really love the Cantonese Golden Gate Noodle House (6 Allegheny Ave., Towson,  337-2557), while others really, really don't. The best approach is to order a brace of dishes and share, banquet-style, so the individual dishes, which each tend to involve an overwhelming quantity of one thing, can work together. The specials board is where the real action is--say, salt-fried mixed seafood, with tender squid, shrimp, and scallops in a gorgeously light crust. Add greens with ginger and garlic, spicy shredded chicken or pork, and one of the many hot pots.
"Natural" living caught on in earnest in the late '60s, as young people looked for a manageable way to drop out of society. Vegetarian vogue reached its pinnacle in the early '70s, marked by the opening of Ithaca, N.Y.'s vegetarian Moosewood Restaurant in 1973 and the publication of the Moosewood Cookbook a few years later. Notwithstanding all the hippies who eventually dropped back in, meatlessness became entrenched as an American dining option. In the '90s, public concern over bioengineering and the use of hormones and antibiotics in farming helped prompt a natural- foods renaissance, with renewed interest in vegetarianism, its fundamentalist cousin veganism, and the organic-foods movement.
One World Café (904 S. Charles St.,  234-0235, and 100 W. University Parkway,  235-5777) covers all three departments--vegetarian, vegan, and organic. Brunch (served daily) features homemade Belgian waffles or zesty migas (eggs with tortilla chips, cheddar, and salsa) accompanied by generously poured Bloody Marys. Dinner and lunch are covered by a menu of simple items, including overstuffed black-bean burritos, homemade soups, and vegetarian chili along with daily specials. Nutritional ascetic or no, we defy you to pass the gorgeously arrayed dessert case and remain unmoved by the carrot cake.
Even if the Sobo Café (6 W. Cross St.,  752-1518) weren't veggie-friendly, it would still be one of our favorite places to eat--consuming Sobo's mac 'n' cheese is an ecstatic experience. This South Baltimore café's menu always includes vegetarian and vegan items, including a daily special, just like meat-eaters get everywhere else. There's Cincinnati five-way veggie chili, plus an Asian-accented veggie stir-fry that varies daily according to seasonal ingredients. A vegan pasta special (also varies day-to-day) completes one of the city's most intelligent takes on vegetarian dining.
Asian restaurants almost always give vegetarians some refuge, but Café Zen(438 E. Belvedere Ave.,  532-0022) stands out by offering particularly elegant and subtle fare in both vegan or carnivore versions. Try light, steamed vegetable dumplings, gow bah rice cake with tofu and vegetables, or spinach and tofu sautéed in garlic sauce. There are 15 items in the "Tofu" and "Vegetable" sections of this North Baltimore restaurant's menu; the string beans rolled in a scallion pancake and the kung pao tofu are particular highlights.
The city's most ambitious vegetarian and vegan dining is at Zodiac (1724 N. Charles St.,  727-8815), where the food changes with the astrological calendar. Meat-based fare is in the minority on this midtown menu, and animal-free items are marked to denote vegetarian/vegan status. Sometimes it seems the kitchen's sign is transiting the house of don't-give-a-rat's-ass, but when the food is good, it's very good--especially the vegan wild-mushroom lasagna (creamy enough to fool carnivores), miso broth, and thin-crust pizza.
The Black Olive (814 S. Bond St.,  276-7141) uses organic produce, eggs, and dairy products to feed vegetarians and omnivores alike, with Hellenic flair. Those who eat seafood can dine on grilled whole fish, tangy grilled calamari, and kakavia, a Greek bouillabaisse, at this Fells Point dining room. Lacto-vegetarians can get savory bread pudding, with leeks, portobellos, artichokes, and Greek cheeses, or the vegetarian pie of spinach, Swiss chard, leeks, and sheeps-milk cheeses in phyllo.
During the '60s and into the '70s, many Americans explored alternatives to the white-bread Christianity that had historically dominated the United States, while others dropped out of religious affiliation altogether. One result of this spiritual reassessment was that Sabbath mornings, once dedicated to attending church, were now free time. Add '70s hedonism and you've got the origin of that ritual known as Sunday brunch.
For break-the-bank brunching, we favor Pisces (Hyatt Regency Hotel, 300 Light St.,  605-2835), where the complimentary champagne flows in front of a sweeping Inner Harbor view. Brunching at Pisces means ordering a beautifully prepared entrée from the menu (the rockfish and the eggs Benedict stand out) before grazing from an extensive buffet of raw, steamed, and smoked seafood; a profusion of salads; and more varieties of fresh fruit than there were on Carmen Miranda's hat. The dessert selection is an array of bite-sized pastries (éclairs, tarts, chocolate bonbons) perfect for tapering down from the eating orgy. Though it's hard to pass up free booze, especially fresh-squeezed-OJ mimosas, we highly recommend investing in a potent, shrimp-festooned Bloody Mary.
For everyday brunch, there's the Blue Moon Café (1621 Aliceanna St.,  522-3940)--which in fact provides brunch every day. We love the potato pancakes, lofty French toast with sautéed bananas and coffee--Blue Moon's own special blend. Best of all, this Fells Point café serves breakfast till 3 p.m. Finally, a restaurant that understands.
Locust Point's Hull Street Blues (1222 Hull St.,  727-7476) marks brunchtime by converting its shuffle-bowl table into a buffet. There's smoked bluefish (Sunday brunch only) and outstanding creamed chipped beef, served on puffed pastry. The kitchen also turns out pancakes and French toast at your request; hope for the special banana-bread French toast with the rum kick. Digest by strolling around Fort McHenry, a cannon shot away.
When the point of brunch is to start drinking again first thing in the morning, there's Little Havana (1325 Key Highway,  837-9903). Brunch at this South Baltimore Cuban bar/restaurant costs $10.95 and includes unlimited mimosas and (note that's "and", not "or") Bloody Marys, delivered to your table by the pitcher-full. You may not remember later, but your tortilla de aguacate (avocado omelet) and revoltillo carnivale (scrambled eggs with peas, cheese, onions, and peppers) were very good.
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812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201