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A tasty trip through Asia at Red Goji in Pikesville

Don't dismiss Red Goji because it is in a strip shopping center. The restaurant hits the mark with its well-prepared dishes and attention to using fresh ingredients.

Owner John Luen, who grew up in Hong Kong, has staffed his kitchen with longtime chefs from his native land and Japan, he said. Their expertise shows in dishes like the marvelous shrimp pad Thai.

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The menu, geared toward American palates and featuring items from Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisines, is divided into sections like Japanese, with several ramen bowls, noodles and fried rice, chicken and beef dishes, and steamed entrees. There are dozens of sushi selections, starring tuna, eel, octopus and more, and specialty rolls like the Chesapeake with fried soft-shell crab.

On my visit, the staff assumed that I didn't want a Japanese spice on one dish and that I didn't use chopsticks. Speak up. I did. The end result was a congenial, delicious meal.

Scene & Decor The dining room is comfortable but dated, with a lackluster patterned carpet, functional Formica-topped tables, institutional-style chairs and diner-like booths. But it's not hopeless. The walls are painted in splashy lime green, purple and yellow, adding energy to the storefront restaurant. One wall has tiny nooks that house single bottles of beer and liqueurs for a curious style statement. We sat at one of the tables near a sushi bar with three stools. Even in the daylight, the room is dim but tidy.

Appetizers There are many options on the sushi menu, including specialty rolls like the Red Dragon with shrimp tempura and the Pikesville with salmon, cream cheese and capers. We had the Baltimore roll and were pleased with its lump crabmeat, tempura flakes and generous sprinkle of Old Bay ($7). We really liked the edamame ($6), once we assured our waitress that we could handle the spicy shichimi listed on the menu. The naked beans were nicely steamed but bland until we asked for the Japanese spice blend. The vegetarian spring rolls ($4.50) were good and had the hearty texture of eggrolls.

Entrees The teenager in my house loves General Tso's chicken, so I've had a lot of versions over the years. Red Goji turns out one of the best. The hunks of tender chicken are barely breaded, lightly fried and set in a mahogany pool of sweet-and-spicy sauce that successfully balances flavors. My only issue was the minuscule amount of broccoli. Though steamed perfectly, two small stalks were not enough for the otherwise bountiful dish ($13). Only a few Thai options are available on the menu, but we recommend the shrimp pad Thai ($13) with its plump whole shrimp, delicate rice noodles, bean sprouts and basil in a lovely peanut-soy sauce. You can also opt for beef or chicken in this dish instead of seafood.

Drinks A full bar offers various wines, cocktails and beers like the Asian brews Sapporo and Tsingtao and more familiar names, including Heineken and Coors Light.

Service Our server doubled as the hostess on our visit. Except for her initial judgment about my palate preference for the edamame, she was pleasant and helpful.

Dessert We urge you to finish your meal with the Japanese red bean ice cream ($4), a pink concoction studded with nutty azuki, or red beans. It has a captivatingly sweet, perfumed flavor. Other choices include New York-style cheesecake, chocolate cake and fried tempura ice cream.

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