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Lunch for $10 or Less: Chocolatea

Lunch for $10 or Less: Chocolatea
The stuffed wonton and egg noodle soup at Chocolatea, 3811 Canterbury Road, in Baltimore, combines smoky sesame with hearty pepper heat that flavors egg noodles and wontons stuffed with chicken and shrimp. Fresh baby spinach adds just a touch of cool garden green to this cold-weather shelter of a lunch. (John Lindner, Special to The Baltimore Sun)

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.

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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.

Chocolatea

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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