Japan on Charles Street
A new Japanese restaurant, Minato, has just opened where CoChin, a Vietnamese restaurant, used to be at 800 N. Charles St. In a sort of Asian musical chairs, the plan was for CoChin to reopen where Matsuri is in South Baltimore, while one partner stayed and teamed up with Matsuri owner Akio Tsuhara to open the new Japanese place. (Don't worry, it confused me too.) All that has fallen through, however, and Matsuri is staying Matsuri. Toni Basinger says she's a firm believer in an eclectic menu with global influences. She implemented one as chef at the Ruby Lounge, and now that she's taken over the kitchen at Upstairs at Central Station (1001 N. Charles St.) you'll find more dishes with Indian, Asian and Southwestern accents on the menu (and more appetizers, pastas and salads). Signature dishes include pork tenderloin with flatbread, snow peas, and mango plum chutney plus a chicken Creole pasta with a cream sauce and fresh peppers. The change is to more fun, casual and therefore lower priced food; but a few of Central Station's old favorites remain on the menu, such as prime rib and "bull in the pan."
New owners, same menu
Puffins, the full-service natural foods restaurant in Pikesville, has brand new owners; but don't look for any big changes any time soon. Kevin Rosenberg says his partner, Ken Blue, has replaced one of the chefs, but the other, who has been at Puffins for the past two years, will stay on.
The menu will stay the same, although, Mr. Rosenberg says, "As time goes on, we plan to play with the specials." The answer to the question many customers have asked -- "Will you continue to bake your own bread?" -- is yes.
Upscale chain gang
The Wall Street Journal is reporting the latest news in chain restaurants: haute cuisine. No, we're not talking bifteck hache at McDonald's, but the fact that high-end restaurants like Wolfgang Puck's Spago are duplicating themselves in other cities.
Because of their prices, we forget that local upscale places like the Chart House and Ruth's Chris Steak House are chains (or "groups" as one publicist says they prefer to be called).
High-end or low-end, there are advantages to being one of several: Chains can sell consistency, especially to business travelers; chains often benefit from the "economies of scale"; and chains can attract broader financing when they need it.
When Fiestas Grill in the Chatham Mall opened, it was a cross between a pub and a Mexican restaurant. But people who wanted bar food didn't know it was a pub, and the Mexican fare was too basic for the real aficionados. "The steaks sold better than anything else," says owner Jim Sheraton. So as of a couple of weeks ago, Fiestas has become a steak and seafood place.
Restaurateur of the year
Congratulations to Lenny Kaplan, who's been named Restaurateur of the Year by the Restaurant Association of Maryland. The Polo Grill is his most high-profile restaurant; but the Kaplan empire also includes Loco Hombre, the new Nate's and Leon's, three Classics to Go, Coffee by Classic and the Classic Catering People.
Table Talk welcomes interesting tidbits of restaurant news. Please send suggestions to Elizabeth Large, Table Talk, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Or fax to (410) 783-2519.
Pub Date: 4/11/96