CoChin: tasty fare, but don't expect adventure in dining

December 07, 1990|By Lynn Williams | Lynn Williams,Sun Restaurant Critic

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.

Call: 332-0332.

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.

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