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.
FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION
"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.