Also in Maryland Live, the wrong address was given for the restaurant CoChin. It is located at 800 N. Charles St.
The Sun regrets the errors.
Where: 800 N. Calvert St.
Hours: Open 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays to Fridays; 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays; 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays.
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V.
Features: Vietnamese dishes.
Non-smoking section: yes.
Many Baltimoreans are surprisingly knowledgeble about Vietnamese cuisine, whether from visits to restaurants in Washington or Arlington's "Little Saigon," or from a tour of duty courtesy of Uncle Sam. So when CoChin opened, it had a ready audience. And what was the word from the early scouts? CoChin, they said, is a pretty nice little Chinese restaurant.
According to old Saigon hands, requests for some of the best-known Vietnamese dishes were met with incomprehension, and many of the cuisine's distinctive tastes (such as nuoc mam, a fermented fish sauce), were absent from the dishes, which both resembled and tasted like good old Cantonese stir-fries.
CoChin hasn't been been Orientalized much; the space is still the cozy wine cellar it was in its Washington Place Grill days. The look is sophisticated and appealing, the service polite and remarkably swift -- our four-course meal took barely an hour -- and the food tasty and modestly priced. We couldn't repress a touch of regret, though, that the results weren't more of an
The best first: CoChin special soup ($3.95) tasted like nothing else we've ever sampled. Although it was, essentially, a sweet and sour shrimp soup with fresh mushrooms, it had a vinegary, biting flavor nothing like Thailand's tom yum goong. Won-ton soup Vietnamese style ($2.50) had a delicate broth and lighter-than-usual won tons.
Although oily, the Saigon spring roll ($3.95) had a nicely crisp dough wrapper, and the filling of ground shrimp, pork and vegetables was well-seasoned. A special, curried eggplant ($3.95), was less than successful, though. The eggplant was not cooked long enough -- this is one vegetable that does not benefit from the al dente treatment -- and the curry sauce was merely poured on top. The flavors did not meld, as they do in Indian eggplant curries.
Shrimp Red Rice ($6.95) was our old favorite, shrimp fried rice. The shrimp was bland, the rice delicious, the presentation monochromatic. (Where were the green peas?) If I had ordered it from my local carryout, I would have been pleased, but this dish was less than thrilling when we were psyched for something not only Vietnamese, but "prepared with a French touch."
Similarly, the lemon-grass combination ($9.95) was a simple stir-fry of seafood, meat and vegetables in a reddish-brown sauce that, although it had a fruity note, had no distinctive lemon-grass flavor.
Unlike many Asian places, though, CoChin has given thought to desserts a bit more unusual than fortune cookies and orange slices. The "fruit cocktail" was wildly exotic, from the ginger-scented sorbet to the topping of litchis and rambutan, which tasted like grapes that had been marinated in lavender cologne.