Food, fun, frills at Jasmine Asian

Sun restaurant critic

When I last ate at Jasmine Asian Bistro three years ago, it was in Towson. With the move to the new Shops at Quarry Lake, the place has upgraded itself.

Jasmine is a prettier restaurant now. The contemporary dining room is filled with lots of warm wood, big windows and well-spaced, white-clothed tables. The biggest difference is probably that Jasmine now has a liquor license, not to mention endless free parking in the shopping center's lot. It also doesn't have the competition from other Asian restaurants that it did in Towson.

The food is still pan-Asian (as opposed to Asian fusion), offering sushi and dishes from Japan, China, Thailand and Vietnam. I'm not going to tell you it's the best Asian food I've ever eaten, but, at the same time, we had a lot of fun there.

This is showy food, generously proportioned with lots of frills. A good example was the dessert roll our waitress suggested. It turned out to be a tempura-fried banana wrapped in seaweed and rice, with slices of mango draped on the roll and a drizzle of sweet sauce. The decorations included, but were not limited to, thin slices of orange and cucumbers. I believe there was a maraschino cherry in there somewhere. The surprising thing was that it tasted pretty good.

Jasmine's Web site promotes the food as light and healthful, but just as at many Chinese restaurants, you can easily get sucked into the deep-fried choices with sweetened sauces and lots of sodium. For every Korean spicy soup with squash and chicken, there's a dish like Thai duck, with crisply fried, fat-edged chunks of duck and a sweet, fiery, cornstarch-thickened sauce. (Don't get me wrong. It tastes great.)

If you're watching your calories/salt/cholesterol, a better bet would be steak-like slices of tuna seared in a wok and served with tomato and chunks of avocado accented with flavors of lemongrass, lime and cilantro - although come to think of it, the sauce was based on soy. There's always the Deep Sea Treasure Noodles, with shellfish in a black bean sauce tossed with fettuccine, but it didn't have the allure of the duck.

The weakest of our entrees was a teriyaki-style steak, which we ordered medium rare but came well done.

For first courses, we shared an orgy of fried foods, otherwise known as the Jasmine Appetizer Platter. The vegetable egg roll was too greasy; but the fried jumbo shrimp with a crackly coconut crust and the crab Rangoon, deep-fried wontons with a cream cheese filling that oozed out appealingly, made us happy. The two pieces of chicken satay with peanut sauce seemed almost spartan in comparison.

There's also a signature Jasmine roll, which would be enough for four as a starter with its American (but appealing) combination of lobster, spicy mayonnaise, lettuce, avocado and roe.

If the strange dessert roll doesn't appeal, there's an apple pie, served chilled with ice cream, which I can't really recommend, and sticky rice with slices of what was that night a mediocre mango. Your best bet might be cups of the restaurant's jasmine tea.

If you take your Asian food seriously and don't like it to be tweaked to appeal to American tastes, Jasmine Asian Bistro isn't the restaurant for you. Just the fact that it's called a bistro suggests that. But it's reasonably priced, the surroundings are pleasing (except for the icy-cold ladies room), and the staff is warm and attentive. It has a liquor license (if you like those drinks with the little umbrellas in them), and you won't have any trouble parking your car. There are worse reasons for choosing a restaurant.

Address: 2592 Quarry Lake Drive, Baltimore

Call: 410-484-5170,

Hours: Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner daily (all day on the weekend).

Prices: Appetizers: $2-$12, entrees: $9-$26.
Food **1/2 (2 1/2 stars)
Service *** (3 stars)
Atmosphere *** (3 stars)

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