Chinese for the American palate

Steaks, cheesecake among offerings

Sunday Gourmet

July 28, 2002|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Since Joey Chiu's Greenspring Inn opened in the early '90s, I've always admired the Lutherville restaurant for doing what it set out to do, and doing it reliably. This is a Chinese restaurant for Americans, no bones about it.

It's the place to go when you want a puu puu tray and a drink with a paper umbrella in it. The menu offers Cantonese, Hunan and Szechwan dishes, but there are also several steaks -- not beef dishes, but Asian-accented steaks. The kind you need a knife and fork for. There's a mesclun salad, one that has blue cheese in the dressing. There's even a Maryland crab cake.

You get the idea.

The Greenspring Inn has done some updating for the '00s, most notably adding an extensive sushi menu. But for the most part, it's still the comfortable place it was 10 years ago, with meat-heavy dishes, brown sauces and lots of fried foods. Don't expect to get brown rice here, and try not to eat too many of those fried noodles with your mai tai cocktail; you'll spoil your supper.

I have less tolerance for such food than I used to. I'm not happy when the same brown sauce appears on too many dishes. Sauces that used to be just right now seem too heavy and thick to me after a decade of eating in Thai and Japanese restaurants. And I don't like it when the fried food tastes as if the oil has been used too many times. I want more delicate and complex flavors than you're going to get with this kind of Chinese cooking.

Having said that, much that comes out of the Greenspring Inn's kitchen is likable. Yes, one of our appetizers was a too-salty concoction of crab, chicken, diced carrots and peas wrapped in lettuce leaves. But to balance it we had flavorful scallion pancakes filled with just-tender green beans, not something you find on every Chinese restaurant's menu.

The Greenspring Special was an over-the-top extravaganza we couldn't help but admire, with lobster chunks and perfectly cooked scallops tossed with vegetables in a white sauce. They shared the plate with fat curls of pink shrimp sporting a Chinese barbecue sauce. A sizzling steak had bold, meaty flavor that could stand up to its brown sauce.

If we had only steered clear of the fried foods that night, we would have had a better meal. Vegetables were fresh and cooked tender crisp. But both a duck with vegetables and a soft-shell crab tempura tasted of overused oil. So did the spring rolls.

The restaurant no longer offers the selection of cakes for dessert it did when I was there last, probably a good thing given how substantial the entrees are. Instead the waiter brings a plate of almond and fortune cookies, or you can choose from peppermint candy, rum raisin or vanilla ice creams; lime sherbet; and a cheesecake or two.

The Greenspring Inn's dining rooms are contemporary, the kind of contemporary that involves a bit of chrome but is still comfortable. No minimalism here. The flowery peach and green color scheme of the front dining room is complemented by the masculine dark green walls and booths in back. My favorite part of the decor is the surprisingly woodsy view from the front room. The wall is mostly glass, and you look out over a tree-shaded stream that separates the restaurant from the parking lot.

While I might not go to Joey Chiu's again just for the food (or, anyway, I would steer away from the fried stuff), the comfortable setting and good service made it a very pleasant evening. The staff is knowledgeable, friendly and professional, and there are lots of hands to get the food on the table quickly and whisk away dirty dishes. It's the kind of place that has its flaws, but if you know what to order, you can have a fine time -- especially when you get one of those cocktails with the paper umbrella and a puu puu platter.

Joey Chiu's Greenspring Inn

Food: **

Service: *** 1/2

Atmosphere: ***

Where: 10801 Falls Road, Lutherville

Hours: Open for lunch and dinner daily, Sunday brunch

Prices: Appetizers, $3.25-$10.95; main courses, $8.95-$25.95

Call: 410-823-1125

Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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