The cuisines keep coming — and never seem to stop. Among the first listed appetizers are Japanese spring rolls, Malaysian roti, Vietnamese spring rolls and Thai golden calamari. Among the noodle dishes are Singapore rice noodles with ground pork, yaki udon, pad Thai and pho.
Such a mix would be a stretch at many restaurants, but this newcomer in Locust Point's McHenry Row development handles its far-ranging menu with competence and panache. Our entrees included a Korean spicy pork hot plate, a Massaman curry, a pad Thai and a Cantonese-style salt-and-pepper fried seafood. They all came over well. Each cuisine is distinct, but all feel that they belong on the same table. The impressive thing is how natural these dishes feel together, given their different pedigrees.
Red Parrot really is worth a visit just to see what a difference a little capital and a lot of ingenuity can make. The interior dimensions are standard for a strip-mall storefront, but it's downright chic to juxtapose tropical oranges and yellows beside somber grays and browns.
Crisscrossing bamboo poles that appear to be structurally supporting a decorative canopy provide the dining room's focus. It's a neat effect, as are the ceiling fans and various hanging light fixtures. If nothing else, you could come away from the Red Parrot with some home-remodeling ideas.
The sleek and uplifting atmosphere reflects the confident style of Red Parrot's enterprising owner, Wendy Cheng, who operates another Red Parrot in Hanover. Originally from Hong Kong, she has infused her new restaurant with a healthy dose of that city's cosmopolitanism and its melting-pot approach to Asian cuisine. This helps diners relax into a pleasant evening at the Red Parrot and even overcome a few obstacles the restaurant sets in their way.
The menu, which lists over 100 items, is confusingly organized and hard to read. There are, eye-crossingly, a section for entrees and others for seafood, curry dishes, and noodles and rice. There is, in addition, a separate, and likewise compendious, menu of offerings from the sushi bar. It's hard to know where to begin.
A good server could have helped us untangle the menu's knots, but ours seemed averse to trying. He seemed indifferent about many aspects of competent service, from remembering drink orders to asking. I'm not sure he would have cared much — or noticed — if we had burst into flames. It was in stark contrast to Cheng's considerable table-side charm.
It was Cheng who recommended we try the awesome roti canai, a flaky Malaysian flatbread served piping hot with a mild curry dipping sauce.
When Cheng wasn't nearby, we made our own luck. The maguro tartare, an appetizer from the sushi bar, was a great choice. Chopped salmon is formed into a cylinder and covered with red, black, yellow and green flying fish roe, all wedged around the glistening yolk of a quail egg. But our splurge on toro, a prized, super-fatty cut of tuna, didn't pay off. Toro should send you into orbit; this did not.
Along with the must-have roti, we can recommend the golden-flaky Red Parrot samosas, filled with fresh-looking potatoes, peas, corn and a flavorful curry paste that holds them together. The Thai golden calamari was crunchy but dull. It needed some Thai flavors in the batter, not just in a dipping sauce.
The best of the entrees were the fiery Korean pork, which packed a peppery wallop, and the Chaing Mai pad Thai, a cut above the standard with its additions of dried shrimp and sweet radishes. A pretty but somewhat thin Massaman curry had the right balance of mild flavors. The salt-and-pepper fried seafood entree — there's a stellar version at Grace Garden in Odenton — had too much salt and not enough pepper.
Time will tell if the service problems we had were an aberration or systemic. I would love to see the Red Parrot take full advantage of its posh bistro setting by acting more like a posh bistro. The menu needs to be trimmed down, or at least presented more coherently.
With some clipping here and grooming there, the Red Parrot could earn a following from the surrounding neighborhoods of Federal Hill, South Baltimore and maybe even beyond.
Red Parrot Asian Bistro
Where:1702 Whetstone Way, Locust Point
Hours: Open daily for lunch and dinner
Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-$15.95; entrees, $11.95-$21.95
[Key: Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Fair or Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭