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Lunch for $10 or Less: Chocolatea

As the bracing autumn chill becomes dreary winter cold, we take up hot soup as naturally as we do our fleeces, knit hats and Thinsulate-lined gloves. As a defense against winter's frosty ache, Chocolatea's wonton noodle soup ($8) is like long johns for your innards.

The bowl is maybe a touch smaller than half a soccer ball. It leaves no room for whining about insufficient portions. It's served with chopsticks and a porcelain soup spoon. Chocolatea could throw in a straw and get no complaint from me: The broth in this soup is superlative.

Smoky sesame seed greets your nose as the bowl is placed at your table. The stock and spices present a delicate, botanical, suggestively earthy composition, while a pepper layer adds enough heat to call it hearty.

Sure, the broth is rich and nuanced enough to stand alone as a decent lunch. But egg noodles lend it a bit more substance, and Chocolatea treats them well. They're a nest of slender al dente pasta that's easy to grab with chopsticks — in fact it's a challenge to grab less than two mouthfuls because of the tangle of noodles. Be prepared for a little slopping and slurping.

Wontons stuffed with shrimp and chicken derive flavor from the broth and help make this a seriously filling meal. It's an impressive variation on the chicken-and-dumpling soup theme with the wonton delivering a lighter, less chewy bite than dumplings. The shrimp and chicken are no more than morsels, but they add a firm, meaty texture that contrasts nicely with the wonton and noodles.

The kitchen tosses a fistful of fresh baby spinach into the mix for another simple but brilliant counterpoint to the heavy pastas and the hot-and-spicy broth. In fact, for a lighter meal, Chocolatea could serve the broth and three fistfuls of baby spinach, hold the wonton and noodles, and still serve an extraordinary bowl of soup.

Chocolatea occupies a street-level corner of the Ambassador Apartments. The shop's size and decor put it in the cozy class, with several different seating options. It serves a half-dozen noodle dishes, including the wonton. Its teriyaki rice bowls combine brown rice with grilled vegetables and a choice of chicken, shrimp, salmon or more veggies. The menu also includes wraps, salads and paninis. Chocolatea also does breakfast till 11 a.m., with a nice-looking pastry display that continues through the day.

As its name declares, the restaurant specializes in chocolates and teas, with a small display of powerfully decadent Swiss truffles and assorted chocolate-covered fruits and nuts. Its tea displays include a table with dried tea leaves presented in wine glasses.

The counter service was relaxed, fun and helpful. Its location and its long menu of teas, coffees and chocolate-infused lattes lend a distinctly college-coffee-shop edge to Chocolatea. But it's far more than that: a must-try for anyone in the neighborhood and well worth a longer drive to this parking-challenged locale.


Where: 3811 Canterbury Road, Baltimore

Contact: 410-366-0095

Lunch hours: Menu served 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday (breakfast items 8 a.m.-11 a.m. with weekend brunch specials)

Lunch entrees: $6-$10

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