There's always been a steady stream of restaurant openings in the area, but lately things have hit flood stage. This month in Word of Mouth we introduce you to three new restaurants -- Busan, CoChin and the India Grill. Another local restaurant has a new name, Southwest Passage, and a popular local chef, Benny Gordon, is back home on the home range.
There's more: Local chocolatier Albert Kirchmayr has his own shop now; there's a new place to order invitations for your holiday parties and there's also a place where a baker's mistake gives you a sweet deal.
CoChin is two things: the old name of Vietnam and the new name of Baltimore's first Vietnamese restaurant, which opened recently in the Park Plaza at Mount Vernon Place.
"CoChin is a name from the history books," says Vi Nam Tran, one of the owners. "Before it was Vietnam, a long time ago, it belonged to China. CoChin means Co-China."
Now it also means some very intriguing food. Vietnamese food -- in particular, the Northern Vietnamese-style food served at CoChin -- shows the influence of Chinese, French and Thai cuisines, according to Mr. Tran. "Here, it's the type of food for the '90's," he says, "Fresh food, a lot of grilled food."
The menu includes cane shrimp roll, skewered seafood, CoChin's special beef (made with very hot, tiny chilies), ginger chicken, Saigon spring roll, filet mignon Kew, shrimp tempura, Vietnamese crepe and seafood or meats flavored with lemon grass.
CoChin is located in the space that used to hold the Washington Place Grill and the new owners -- Mr. Tran, Bill Tien, Tzu Ming Yang and his wife, Jui Fan Lee Yang -- have made only slight cosmetic changes in the cozy, brick-walled restaurant.
L "It was so nice we were afraid to change it," Mr. Yang says.
Mr. Yang is already familiar to many people in Baltimore as the owner of Kawasaki, the Japanese restaurant that is also on Charles Street just a few blocks south of CoChin. He and Mr. Tran first met years ago when they both worked at Uncle Lee's Restaurant.
Mr. Tran and Mr. Tien, who are Chinese but grew up in Vietnam, both were among the refugees who escaped from Vietnam in small fishing boats during the 1970s. The chef is Nam Tien, Bill Tien's father, who had a restaurant in Saigon for 20 years.
Currently the owners and the chef are working on a new menu that will have an even stronger Vietnamese emphasis.
The hours for lunch are 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Dinner hours are 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 4 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays.
CoChin is located at 800 N. Charles St. in the lower level of the Park Plaza building. The telephone number is 332-0332.
A Japanese feast
Tuesday night is feast night at Busan, the new Japanese restaurant and sushi bar on Maryland Avenue. Diners who pay $30 each for this special meal gather in a private upstairs room, where owner and chef Moon Young Kwon brings out course after course of Japanese and Korean delights.
Busan is named after Mr. Kwon's hometown in Korea, where he had restaurants for many years before coming to Baltimore four years ago. But as a licensed sushi chef, here he focuses on Japanese cuisine.
At Busan there are no steam tables keeping things warm in the kitchen. Everything is made from scratch, including the soups. He even makes his own teriyaki sauce. The regular menu includes all kinds of sushi and sashimi, shrimp tempura, chicken teriyaki, grilled salmon, plus a number of Korean entrees -- hwe bibimbop, Korean-style boiled fish and "hot spicy fish soup", which is like an Asian bouilliabaisse.
The restaurant, which Mr. Kwon designed and built himselfseats 80 people in three rooms. Private parties of up to 40 people can be accomodated. Carryout is also available.
The hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesdayto Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Busan is located at 2101 Maryland Ave.; the telephone number i727-2929.
Indians on Federal Hill
Federal Hill has a new Indian restaurant, the India Grill, on South Charles Street.
Here owner Dilawar Singh has created an intimate and softly lit dining room, where the walls are painted a deep dusty rose and the ceiling still has its original tin.
The menu includes chicken shish kebab, Malabar lobster, fish almond, shrimp Marsalam, raan allesham (leg of lamb marinated in rum), India Grill special beef (grilled with tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers), lamb vandalu, vegetable biryani, chicken badam pasanda (cooked in creamy almond sauce) and chicken jal frezi (stir-fried with vegetables). There are numerous breads including paratha, puri, bhara kulcha and chapathi. Desserts include Indian ice cream, gulab jamun and kheer (made with rice and milk).
The chefs are Jarnail Singh and Lambar Singh, who are both from the Punjab region of Northern India -- as are the owner and the manager, Mandeep Singh.
Carryout food and catering are available.
The lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. seven days a week. There is an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet daily for $5.95 per person. Dinner hours are 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.
The India Grill is located at 1017 S. Charles St. The telephone number is 962-1554.
Chocolate up front
Chocolatier Albert Kirchmayr started making his European-style fresh chocolates three years ago, and although he was mostly selling wholesale, a few people -- following their noses, maybe? or some as-yet-to-be-discovered seventh chocolate sense -- found their way to his little chocolate factory on North Charles Street.
They would wait patiently while Mr. Kirchmayr, who learned the art of chocolate making in Switzerland and Germany, would finish whatever delectable little chocolate confections he was working on, then stop, wipe his hands and go and weigh out some chocolates for them.
Now his customers don't have to sneak around to the back door anymore. He has converted his office into a shop complete with a new awning-covered doorway.
"People walk in and they can't believe it," Mr. Kirchmayr says with a laugh. "They say, 'What? Are you getting organized?' "
Through the shop, he sells chocolates and truffles in gold 1-pound and 1/3 -pound boxes plus his large and small chocolate Santa Clauses. The hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and Sundays by chance (especially during peak chocolate seasons like Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter).
The new shop, Kirchmayr Chocolatier, is located at 6223 1/2 N. Charles St. in a (slightly hard-to-find) little brick building. Turn in the drive that goes back to the Maryland National Bank and the shop is on the left. The telephone number is 323-7705.
A change of name
South by Southwest, the Fells Point restaurant that specializes in Santa Fe-style cooking, has a new name. It's now called Southwest Passage.
The name change came last summer after chef Nick Wilson became the sole owner.
Everything else at the restaurant stays the same. The location, 639 S. Broadway, and telephone number, 558-0906, are still the same. The high plains lasagna is still stuffed with cheeses and spicy black beans; the Texas-American ribs still have their peach sweet-and-sour sauce; the crab cakes still taste of Tex-Mex instead of Old Bay.
Benny's back home
Fans of local chef Benny Gordon can find him back at Restaurant 2110 on Charles Street -- the romantic little place where he first gathered his following by serving country French cuisine. He left Chez Charles, the new restaurant he started last year, rather than sign a long-term contract with the restaurant's new owners.
He went back to Restaurant 2110 this fall and bought it from his father, Benjamin Gordon Sr., who had kept it going after he left.
Benny Gordon plans to expand the menu from country French to a more eclectic offering of rustic country dishes from all over the world, including filet mignon with Cajun shrimp, blackened scallops with lemon, veal with crabmeat, lobster bisque, veal Marsala, shrimp in whiskey sauce, and New York strip steak with peppercorn sauce.
The hours for lunch are 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. Dinner hours are 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays, 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Next Sunday the restaurant will start serving a Sunday brunch for $10.95 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner hours will be 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. A prix fixe dinner for $14.95 will b served from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Restaurant 2110 is located at 2110 N. Charles St.; the telephone number is 528-1655.
Just in time for holiday invitations, The Pleasure of Your Company has opened a branch in Ellicott City. And like the original store in Greenspring Station, the new shop will emphasize social stationery and printing.
Thanks to laser printers, you can order custom-printed invitations for everything from birth announcements to New Year's Eve parties and pick them up the next day. Custom calligraphy takes three to five days, offset printing can be done in a week and engraving in four to six weeks, according to Hannah Rodewald, who is co-owner with her husband Lynn.
They also offer calligraphy and printing in Hebrew and they have a full line of European and American stationery including lines using recycled paper.
The hours of the store are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.
The Pleasure of Your Company is located at 3570 St. Johns Lane in the Frederick Crossing Shopping Center. The telephone number is 461-4121.
A piece of cake
You've heard of getting a good deal on seconds in linens or a bargain on distressed furniture? Well, now we have distressed cakes.
When the baker makes a mistake -- when a crust gets broken or the frosting gets squashed -- you can still buy the pie, the muffins, the cake, the quiche or the cheesecake that isn't quite pretty enough to be sold to a store, but tastes just as good as a "perfect" one.
Ms. Desserts now is selling its "factory seconds" at its commissary in Woodlawn, in the Rolling Heights Business Park off Dogwood Road. The hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
The commissary's address is 2275 Rolling Run Drive. The telephone number is 281-2000.