The menu at The Orient leans to predictable fare

MATTER OF TASTE

January 17, 1991|By Mary Maushard

The Orient is a bit misleading. From its name, one might think this downtown Towson restaurant offers cuisine from across a continent.

It does not.

It offers a great number of Chinese dishes and a sampling of Japanese fare. There is an attractive sushi bar separate from the dining room.

Except for a mixed appetizer tempura plate, my husband and I stuck to Chinese dishes on a recent visit to The Orient. And except for that tempura, what we had was mostly run-of-the-mill. At higher than run-of-the-mill prices.

Take, for instance, my husband's Beef with Scallop in Delicious Sauce. For $11.95, he was served a platter of scallops and thin, but tough, beef slices with vegetables in a greasy brown sauce.

Bereft of seasoning, this dish tasted like every other beef-or- shellfish-and-vegetables-in-brown-sauce concoction.

Or take the soups we began with, Wonton and Chicken and Corn ($1.50). The Wonton Soup was so bland that eating it seemed pointless. The Chicken and Corn proved to be an egg drop soup with the faintest hint of corn flavoring. It did, however, improve greatly with a little soy sauce.

The next course, the Appetizer Tempura ($4.95) from the Japanese menu, was the one bright spot in our meal.

Served attractively in a wicker basket were two large shrimp plus green beans and onion, carrot and zucchini slices. It was almost enough to be an entree. Split, it was more than enough of an appetizer for the two of us.

Each of the offerings in the tempura was superb. Lightly breaded and not greasy, it was cooked perfectly and served with a delicious dipping sauce.

For an entree, I had Jumbo Shrimp Sauteed With Chef's Cut Vegetables in White Sauce as part of the full-meal special. For $15.95, the special includes soup, a spring roll, sushi, rice, a bitingly hot avocado paste and one of three entrees.

Except for the soup, all of the offerings on the special are served together in a sectioned black plastic plate that lets the food stand out. None of the portions is large; altogether, however, it was more than enough.

The large, tender shrimp were accompanied mostly by broccoli with some mushrooms and tiny ears of corn. I, too, was surprised to find my entree greasy.

I skipped dessert except for the obligatory fortune cookies, served at The Orient with orange sections.

My husband had the Mud Pie ($3.50). As with most mud pies, it was not cooked on the premises but was, my husband felt, above average.

The bill was $58, which included three cocktails, a half-carafe of the house wine and two coffees. For ordinary Chinese food, that's steep.

The service was as mediocre as the food. It was, in fact, abrupt. The waiter, quite friendly at the beginning, later seemed hardly able to pause at our table long enough to take our orders. We also had long waits for drinks, between courses and for our check on a night when there were only a few other tables to be served.

The Orient has two dining rooms divided by a glass wall. The decor is typical of modernistic Chinese restaurants -- dramatic colors, fake plants, bold wallpaper. Not unpleasant, but not unusual either. You've seen it all before. Unfortunately, you've also probably tasted it all before.

** The Orient

319 York Road, Towson

296-9000

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Reservations: Recommended on weekends.

Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.

Handicapped access: Accessible.

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