Zhongshan Restaurant has recently opened in the old Chinatown Cafe space at 323 Park Ave. in downtown Baltimore, and it's definitely worth a visit if you're in the city and craving Asian food and/or dim sum. It's so new, that all the beautiful good-luck flower arrangements were still lining the entrance and inside walls.
For those who remember the old space, you will not recognize this one. It is fancy! Shiny gold wallpaper, large murals, sparkling chandaliers, round tables with lazy susans galore, pretty table settings, (you know, the kind where the heavy pink cloth napkins are folded like lotus blossoms). The ornate, multi-page translated menu is a boggle of cuisines and styles, fonts and colors. You name it, it's on there. Since they've just opened, they told us they are still feeling their way to try to understand what items will be most popular so they can make adjustments accordingly.
However, there is also an untranslated Chinese menu on a single sheet of plain paper (we're working on the translations...) so we opted to go that route; more or less. I was with several Mandarin speakers, and left the ordering discussion in their capable hands. After a long lively back-and-forth with staff and with co-owner Shirley Cheung, with a mixture of Mandarin, Cantonese and English, we seemed to have gotten across the notion that we wanted authentic Cantonese dishes. What we ended up with were (I think) several items from the untranslated menu and seveal off-menu dishes. I was not taking notes.
Highlights started with the salt and pepper shrimp. Not in shell, but very well executed - light, crispy crunchy and very fresh. Also, a vegetable dish that never did get fully translated. It was described as a long thin vegetable, like a cucumber or squash. It arrived looking like a cross-cut zucchini - no more than 2" diameter, dark green skin and light green flesh, and served with a lot of fresh garlic. Delicious. I would have been quite satisfied with just those two dishes.
Also tasty was a crispy noodle and seafood dish, although the noodles were not at all crispy. If ordering this, be sure to let them know you really do want the noodles to be crisped on both sides, and they will oblige. It was loaded with squid, shrimp, scallops, and fish, with bell and red peppers and onions. Satisfying, even though the gravy sogged up the noodles.
We were then treated to a whole stuffed duck, suggested by our waitress and meant to be the highlight of the meal. Carved tableside for us, the meat of this large bird was certainly tender and juicy. Inside was a small amount of stuffing - appearing to be chestnuts, lotus seeds and a few other things I was not able to discern. This is not the seven-treasure stuffed duck of Grace Garden (not even close), but a pleasant dish none-the-less.
On the forgettable end of things was a thickend beef soup with vegetables, similar to a hot and sour soup. It took a few heavy shakes of pepper to jazz it up, and it still needed a salt note. There were no condiments on the table at all.
Overall, a very good beginning, and for Baltimore, a very welcome addition. Staff and owners were quite eager to help, and I look forward to returning to explore more of the menus.
And there's more good news for Baltimore, the restaurant also serves dim sum! Every single day from 10:00 am- 3:00pm! Made in-house! This is quite exciting news. They provided me with a copy of the menu - this one translated - and it includes the standards, but also such things as beef tripe with ginger and scallion, steamed beef honeycomb (tripe), chicken feet with bean sauce, and pork chops fried with intestines. $2.95/share. Must. go. soon.
The lunch specials menu ($6.95) is also extensive, although it appears the menu of two-dozen items could use a better translation. Some are recognizable such as beef with broccoli and sesame chicken, while "Sichuan Chook Cattle," "Steamed Olio Chook-Shrimp" and "Crackling Shredded Meat" left me intrigued and curious.
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