Sushi is suddenly hot here, and new Hoang's has it

July 25, 1996|By Laura Rottenberg | Laura Rottenberg,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Scotland's Loch Ness Monster, Bermuda's Triangle and the hirsute Sasquatch of the Pacific Northwest have nothing on Baltimore's new, unexplained phenomenon. You see, sushi bars are suddenly taking over empty spaces all over the city. Sushi restaurants are opening at a rapid clip, while existing restaurants are tacking on sushi bars willy-nilly.

As the rest of the country cools in its affection for raw fish, dried seaweed and sticky rice, our city is gearing up. Soon you will probably be able to order an Arch Deluxe with a side of California roll at Baltimore's McDonald's restaurants.

Hoang's Sushi & Noodle Cafe, an offshoot of Hoang's in Mount Washington Village, has caught the bug. Opened just six weeks ago in North Baltimore, it is exclusively takeout and delivery, trafficking mostly in nice Vietnamese noodle dishes. It also has extensive sushi selections and a smattering of Thai and Chinese standbys to hedge its bets.

It's a shame that the menu is so ethnically muddled. While Baltimore has any number of places to enjoy a tekka maki (tuna roll), there are few locales where one can grab a restorative bowl of pho, the aromatic, brothy noodle dish of Vietnam.

All of Hoang's phos require a little assembly. A big container houses fat noodles, scallion and your choice of chicken, vegetables, thinly sliced flank steak or meat balls. Another vessel is filled with an aromatic chicken stock, infused with the heady scent of star anise. When mixed, the soup is homey and, at the same time, richly exotic. Another soup of thin egg noodles and shrimp and pork dumplings is burdened with a humdrum broth, but it is still satisfying.

Vietnamese summer rolls are a fresh and lively accompaniment to the soups. Translucent rice noodle enfolds steamed shrimp, green leaf lettuce and mint leaves. These are served with a smooth peanut sauce.

Skewered, grilled meats are given careful treatment at Hoang's. Butterflied shrimp or chunks of chicken breast are shellacked with a sweet, smoldering Vietnamese fish sauce and grilled. Moist and smoky, each is presented on a bed of lettuce dotted with steamed vegetables and served with a side order of rice or rice noodles. The chicken is given extra oomph by a Thai lemongrass marinade.

The pairing of Thai and Vietnamese dishes is not too surprising. Geography and a similar palette of flavors -- lime, mint, basil, hot chilies -- make these two cuisines complementary. In fact, traditional pad Thai is not so far removed from pho Xao, a pan-fried rice noodle jumble with meats and veggies.

This synergy, however, does not extend to the Japanese cuisine. One evening's maki sushi -- or small roll -- paired bland rice with mushy yellowtail and unagi (eel). A big dab of wasabi (Japanese green horseradish) certainly enlivened the fish, but it clashed with the more delicate flavors in our Vietnamese dishes.

Hoang's was not taking credit cards as this review went to press, but it might be by the time you visit; call ahead. Also, the owners hope to offer indoor seating soon. One caveat for folks ordering takeout: Although Styrofoam containers are carefully wrapped in plastic, there may still be significant leakage en route to home.

Hoang's Sushi & Noodle Cafe

6805 York Road

(410) 377-2500

Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Credit cards: No cards

Prices: appetizers, $2.70-$7.95; entrees, $6.95-$14.95

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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