Persian's pleasing, Italian isn't at new mixed-menu eatery, Cochini

July 23, 1993|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Restaurant Critic

Cochini is Baltimore's first Italian-Persian restaurant. In fact, it may be the only Italian-Persian restaurant in the world. It's not exactly an idea whose time has come.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't a combination of cuisines like the Orchid's French-Chinese dishes. No fettucine fesenjune. Cochini's owner, who left Iran 14 years ago, wanted a backup for those who don't eat Persian food. Italian is as good as any, I guess.

The problem is that the Italian food we tried was almost inedible, while the Persian dishes were fine. Cochini's has only been open a couple of months, so the selection is somewhat limited. (Look for Middle Eastern appetizers and breads to be introduced soon.) But there are eight Persian main courses to choose from.

How do you decorate the dining room of an Italian-Persian restaurant? The new owner has sidestepped that question by doing very little. It looks pretty much as it did when it was Churchill's, all pink and white with trellises, lace curtains and artificial flowers. No, I'm wrong. The fountain at the bottom of the stairs and the red neon "Dining Room" sign at the top are new.

To get the Italian food out of the way first, the minestrone wagrievously oversalted. (Does no one taste this stuff before it leaves the kitchen?) Seafood fettucini alfredo, recommended by the owner, had a glutinous sauce that smothered the huge portion of pasta, overcooked vegetables and shellfish. The dish looked as if it had been cooked a couple of hours before and then been reheated; it didn't taste much better.

But to be fair, a first course of fried calamari, with marinara sauce for dipping, was tender and not greasy. The scampi starter, unexpectedly served over a mound of fettucine, featured shrimp that were small but pleasant enough.

Still, my advice would be to turn straight to the Persian menuFrom it you can order one of several skewered chicken or beef dishes, moderately priced with generous portions. Try, for instance, the soltani chicken kebab, which for some reason includes beef as well as marinated charcoal-broiled chicken. The beef is more like, say, souvlaki than the promised tenderloin; but all of the dish, including the basmati rice, was good.

Someone at your table should get fesenjune, the classic shredded chicken in a pomegranate and walnut sauce. The kitchen has increased the sweet of the sweet-sour sauce for American tastes, which is a mistake. But it's still an interesting dish taken in small doses -- just make sure everyone at the table shares around.

Balance it with khoresht-e-bademjune: beef, dried peas and eggplant slow-cooked in a gently spiced tomato-based sauce. But I'd find either of these dishes monotonous on their own; only the kebabs work by themselves.

Dessert was ice cream or nothing -- "gourmet" ice creamaccording to the owner. And the peach-vanilla did, indeed, taste like homemade. It was the high point of our meal.


Where: 225 N. Liberty St.

Hours: Open every day for lunch and dinner

Credit cards accepted: AE, MC, V

Features: Italian, Persian food

Non-smoking section? Yes

Call: (410) 727-0910

Prices: Appetizers, $3.95-$6.95; entrees, $8.95-$18.95

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