Chinese that RoCKs
Robert of Cross Keys gives up a lazy Sunday for good Chinese in this Free Market Friday post. Here's RoCK. LV
Normally, Sunday mornings are me time. The wife sleeps in, and I walk the dog around Cross Keys. I get a coffee and dwell on the demise of various things: western civilization, country music, the Orioles, etc. ... Mr. Jefferson lays territorial claims throughout the neighborhood, making particular efforts at those evil complexes that forbid dogs.
Every now and again, however, the wife makes an effort to wake up early to go to the Target in Timonium, which is where we went a couple of Sundays ago. Afterward, we went looking for brunch. There’s not much in the way of brunch options up that way, and after a rather lackluster meal at the Nautilus Diner on a previous Sunday morning Target trip that featured cold eggs and tasteless chipped beef, we really weren’t looking to stick around the York Road corridor.
I was thinking either Asian Court in Ellicott City for dim sum or Red Springs Café downtown on Calvert Street for soul food. I had never been to Red Springs, but I knew they put on a brunch special featuring all the BBQ and catfish one could eat, so I suggested we go there. Unfortunately, there was no brunch being served. I’m not sure if they stopped serving brunch all together or just that particular Sunday.
Well, with this revelation the wife started pressing for the other option of Asian Court. It was one thing to go from Timonium to Ellicott City, but my mental block wouldn’t allow me to go from Baltimore to Ellicott City.
Years ago I remembered a dim sum place in what passes as Baltimore’s Chinatown over on Park Avenue, but I thought that place closed down. Still, we decided Park Avenue was only a few minutes away, so it wouldn’t hurt to see what was over there. It turned out that a restaurant called ZhongShan was in the spot of the old restaurant, which I think was called the Chinatown Cafe. When I walked in I saw two good signs: a fish tank for culinary not aesthetic purposes and ducks hanging from hooks.
Dim sum was offered, but not via carts. After conversing with several of the ladies working there, all of whom were very helpful albeit with limited English skills, we ordered steamed pork sao mai, steamed Shanghai juicy buns, beef tripe with ginger and scallions, sticky rice in lotus leaf, and short ribs in black pepper sauce. Each dish is about $3.
The sao mai and the juicy buns both had nice pork flavor, and neither was dried out. On their own they may have been a little flat, but the accompanying hot vinegar and chili oil provided the necessary snap and heat. The dumpling on the sao mai was maybe a touch gummy. The bun on Shanghai, however, was excellent. It was soft, but not too doughy.
Beef tripe is not normally one of my favorites, but I enjoyed this one. It was relatively tender, but not pot roast tender. It was more cooked rhubarb tender, whereby it is tender but still a little crunchy. The ginger and scallion sauce provided a little bit of sweetness with a little bit of punch.
The lotus leaf rice was somewhat of a disappointment, and not nearly as good as Asian Court's. The texture of the rice was fine, but just not much in the way of flavor. The fillings were mostly pieces of bland, dark meat chicken. I think may have seen a mushroom, but I know I didn’t get a nugget of Chinese sausage.
The short ribs were clearly my favorite of the dim sum. They were very tender with just enough fat to make them flavorful without being flabby. The black pepper sauce did a nice job of cutting through the richness of the ribs.
At that point we were not yet full, and we were in agreement that we really should try the duck. The wife wanted crispy duck, but I figured I could get that at the neighborhood Chinese place. I wanted one of those ducks hanging from the hooks. I wanted the Peking. We decided to let one our waitresses pick. Without hesitation they all said to go for the Peking, and I’m so glad we listed to them.
We went with the half duck for $15, which was carved tableside and then assembled into a pancake roll-up with bean sauce and scallions. It was absolutely delicious with all different types of flavors and textures coming together. The duck meat was savory and succulent without being greasy. The duck skin was sweet and salty with a texture that was crispy with just a little bit of chew. The bite of the scallions was complimented by the sweetness of the bean sauce. It was one of those happy mouth experiences.
I want to go back and try some of the other menu items, particularly the ones from the Mandarin or Beijing tradition, like lamb casseroles that you really won’t see at any of the other Chinese restaurants in Baltimore. Actually, until seeing it on their menu, I never even thought of lamb in Chinese cooking. Then again, it wasn’t that long ago that I would have thought going out for Chinese food would entail entrails like beef tripe.
ZhongShan dim sum. Sun photo by Kim Hairston. Photos from RoCK's meal available here.