Ruby 8 Noodles and Sushi's McHenry Row space in Locust Point has previously housed two other Asian restaurants. So owner Chil Chong worries that diners won't realize his place isn't the same as the now-closed Umi Sake and Red Parrot Asian Bistro.
"It's completely different," he said.
The interior has been revamped, and the Asian menu is a less expensive, more Americanized version than what is offered at Ruby 8's Horseshoe Casino Baltimore location.
The new Ruby 8 offers a more relaxed, family atmosphere than the gambling venue, where patrons eat quickly to return to their games, said Chong, who owns both restaurants with his wife, Joyce.
It's also bigger — with 125 seats, including an outside patio — and has a full bar, specializing in cocktails like an Asian Mist with rum, coconut rum, melon, pineapple juice and Sprite.
There's little evidence of the contemporary dining room's cultural food heritage, except for a sushi bar. Even there, two TVs hang overhead in keeping with an underlying American sports-bar vibe throughout the room.
The well-prepared, prettily plated dishes — representing the cuisines of China, Korea, Vietnam and more — are a pleasant interlude. Traditional entrees are represented, from Mongolian beef and Szechuan pork to Vietnamese seared flank steak. Ramen and sushi are available, too.
Chil Chong said he picked the spot because he saw a gap in Asian cuisine in South Baltimore. He's fulfilling his mission with comfortable food in a comfortable place.
Scene & Decor: On an early evening, Drake and Nicki Minaj were playing on the sound system, and the bar was just kicking into happy hour. Actually, the staff was still cleaning, with one employee on a stepladder, dusting. We felt like we were at a party on the wrong night, but we were greeted warmly and shown to a booth, where a wide aisle separates other tables and creates a spacious feel.
Appetizers: We appreciated the two crispy spring rolls ($5), wrapped as tightly as cigars for dunking into the bright-orange sweet and sour sauce. We're not sure why it was called a Raven sushi roll ($15) except for local football pride, but the rounds of rice, hugging lobster and avocado, were delicious, with the bonus of spicy crabmeat mounded on top. We would return just to have the bulgogi kimchi roll ($7) again. Tender beef was layered on a bun with kimchi and melted cheese. The accompanying fries were surprisingly good.
Entrees: The drunken noodles ($12) was a standout dish. There's not a drop of alcohol in this Thai stir-fry. Some say it got its name because it's a soothing food to eat after a night of drinking; others say its spiciness can cause people to drink more. Either way, these fat noodles tossed with succulent ribbons of beef, onions, scallions, tomatoes and Thai basil were terrific, however its name originated. We also enjoyed General Tso's shrimp ($17) with nine huge shrimp in a sweet, gingery sauce that was surrounded by a generous amount of broccoli florets.
Drinks: Specialty cocktails, crush drinks, several types of martinis, and draft beer and wine are on the menu
Service: Our waitress was friendly and often accompanied by a manager. She told us later that she was new. With her pleasant personality, we're sure she's going to shine.
Dessert: We were told the only available desserts were vanilla-bean ice cream, chocolate ice cream and cheesecake. When we asked about the green-tea ice cream we had seen on an online menu, our server checked and found it was available. The three bonbon-size scoops were a great way to wrap up the meal.
Ruby 8 Noodles and Sushi
Backstory: Chil and Joyce Chong opened their first Ruby 8 at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore in August 2014. After customers kept asking them for a location outside the casino, they found a spot in McHenry Row and opened it in May.
Signature dish: Drunken noodles
Where: McHenry Row, 1702 Whetstone Way, Locust Point
Contact: 410-837-1702, ruby8baltimore.com/ruby8-mchenry-row.php
Open: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday through Sunday
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Accepts reservations
Bottom line: For a change of pace in the city, Ruby 8 in the McHenry Row complex is worth a visit for Asian food. Free garage parking is a plus.