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At Red Parrot Asian Bistro, too much of a so-so thing

I have to admit I love the idea of putting an affordable and accessible Asian bistro in Station North, just a few doors down from the Charles Theatre. Apparently, so do a lot of other people.

On our first visit, early on a Saturday night, moviegoers were streaming steadily into Red Parrot, which occupies a long, narrow space on the ground floor of the Chesapeake building. Maybe they were attracted by the retro-looking neon signs on the restaurant's front window, advertising sushi, sake, noodles, pho and ramen, along with the neon image of steam rising from a bowl with chopsticks.

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It's cute and corny, and you kind of wish they'd gone to town with it and made the space into a red-booth Chinatown wonderland, but not so. As it is, the interior of Red Parrot is cheerful and colorful, maybe a little generic-looking. But the first impression is favorable.

The nicest feature is the little pocket dining area just inside the entrance, across from the front bar. The main dining room has comfortable banquette seating along both sides. Tables are close together, but not too close. At the back, just at the kitchen door, a four-seat sushi bar is tucked into the corner. It's hard to imagine anyone ever wanting to sit there.

Red Parrot offers an extensive pan-Asian menu featuring the most popular restaurant dishes from America's Chinese, Thai and Korean restaurants. It's one of those too-big, hard-to-read menus that makes you wonder how the kitchen can do such diverse cuisine well. The menu's organization doesn't boost your confidence. Food is organized not by cuisine but into not-very-helpful categories like "Entrees," "Curry Dishes," "Noodles and Rice," "Seafood" and "Chef's Suggestions."

So you take a stab, and mostly what you get is decent but underseasoned. I'm all for above-average Asian food when it's nearby and priced well. But the food at Red Parrot, on the whole, is average. The word we ended up with was "mediocre," even at the moderate prices.

The Thai drunken noodles, ordered with shrimp but delivered with chicken, were missing the basil aroma and hot-pepper heat that makes a good version such a comforting pleasure. A red curry, ordered with the addition of chicken, was missing basil, too, along with the velvety coconut milk. On the Korean hot plate spicy pork, there were more onions, carrots and scallions than meat, and the Korean spicy sauce wasn't spicy enough.

The best entree was a firm and flavorful pan-roasted salmon, served with its skin intact and topped with a pretty and tasty mango salsa.

Appetizers were mostly innocuous. These are things like savory vegetable dumplings filled with daikon radish, carrot, cabbage and cilantro, and pillow-y Thai steamed dumplings filled with ground shrimp, pork and cucumber. The Thai golden calamari, though, had the uniform look, too-soft texture and dull taste of a packaged product.

The cocktail, beer and wine list, like the main menu, is cluttered and hard to read. Nor are the cocktails listed with prices. Most of the desserts are built around ice cream, but a problem with the freezer, we were told, had turned the ice cream to mush. That left us with the options of mango sticky rice, which was not sweet and sticky enough, and imported carrot cake, which was dry.

The service was well-intentioned and friendly but a little out of sync. On two visits, there apparently wasn't anyone whose job that night was to tend bar. Rather, a manager or waiter would step in as needed.

Parrot Asian Bistro, which is affiliated with same-named restaurants in Hanover and Ellicott City, was a smart choice for the neighborhood. The restaurants to either side, Tapas Teatro and Pen & Quill, are certainly more sophisticated but more expensive, too. It's nice to have a midlevel option in the neighborhood, and Red Parrot is, on the surface, just the kind of easygoing place you'd be looking for after a long art-house movie, or to quote John Waters, "a European film."

Red Parrot ends up being the kind of place you might go to if you're hungry and in the neighborhood, but wouldn't make a special trip for. Or as a friend put it, "If I were in the neighborhood, and someone suggested it, I wouldn't not go here."

Red Parrot Asian Bistro

Rating: ✭1/2

Where: 1707 N. Charles St., Station North

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Contact: 410-244-8330, redparrotasianbistro.com

Open: Mondays through Thursdays 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays 11 a.m. to midnight; Saturdays noon to midnight; Sundays noon to 10 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers $6 to $10; entrees $11 to $23

Food: Chinese, Thai, Korean and Malaysian dishes

Service: Friendly but unenthusiastic about the menu offerings

Parking: In nearby lot, garage and on street

Children: A small children's menu includes chicken and shrimp nuggets, grilled chicken and all-you-can eat rice and lo mein.

Noise level/televisions: Conversation is easy in the main dining room. There is one television over the bar which, was on low volume on one visit.

[Key: Superlative: ✭✭✭✭✭; Excellent: ✭✭✭✭; Very Good:✭✭✭ ; Good: ✭✭; Promising: ✭]

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