Sunday, March 07, 2010

Zhong Shan Restaurant

The City Paper's annual Eat Guide is out, and as usual I found out about some spots I had previously known nothing about. There's the Immeasurable Chicken and Waffle near Carroll Park, which is owned by a gospel trio of the same name (minus the food part of the name of course). Then there's the long-open Club Charles, which I now know has been using the kitchen of the long-defunct Zodiac, and cooking up some of the same menu items (I know they were famous for their vegan offerings, but please let their burger have been resurrected).

And then there is Zhong Shan Restaurant, an import from Philly that brings some much needed dim sum to downtown Baltimore. But what they are most known for, apparently, is their Chinese hot pot - or as they call it, "Chinese fondue - which sounds like a cross between Mongolian BBQ and pho: you get a choice of four types of broth, several types of meat (sliced thin and raw, which then cooks in the broth), several types of vegetables (I assume you can skip the meat if you want to go vegetarian) and choice of either vermicelli or Cantonese wontons. Though I wasn't going specifically for that, I did look for it on the menu. Since it wasn't on the one I got last night, I assumed it wasn't being offered at the time. But I could be wrong.

Zhong Shan is very bright on the outside and inside. A beautiful desk greets you on the other side of the door, and the friendly owners greet you behind that desk. Zhong Shan also does take out, but I wanted to sit down. The first thing that caught my attention was the dining room: it was empty. Granted, I was out well past the typical dining hour, but I'm not really used to being the only customer, so it always weirds me out. Don't ask me why - it just does. Fortunately, other customers showed up over the course of the hour or so that I was there.

As I noted, Zhong Shan is very bright inside, with gold colored columns and chandeliers in the middle of yellow and off-white walls, and a massive Chinese mural on the wall. Across from the mural is mounted an HDTV that was showing some sort of movie about people fighting. It was in Chinese, of course, but subtitled in... Chinese, so that didn't help me at all.

Since I couldn't find the fabled Chinese fondue, my eyes scanned over the dim sum offerings. It's been a while since I've had dim sum (between $3 and $5 per item, order at least three items), but it would have to wait again: I didn't know, but it's difficult for them to serve fewer than three different pieces of dim sum at a time, due to how they prepare it. Oh well, I'll just have to return again sometime, preferably before 3, for the taro dumplings, pork shu mai and chicken feet (icky in America but a delicacy in China, so why not try 'em sometime?)

While sipping the complimentary tea, my eyes did alight on the shredded duck ($16), but they were out of duck, so I went for the shrimp spring roll ($1.50 each) and crispy pork ($13). The spring roll was hot - meaning temperature hot, not spicy hot. It came with both duck sauce and chili sauce. I was warned that the sauce would be hot, but I didn't find it that hot at all. Then again, I like hot things, so my "not so hot" might be another's "OHMYGODTHISISSOHOT!!!" The spring roll was fine; it did its job.

The crispy pork, I was told, is one of their more popular menu items. Paired with white rice, it is a large plate of crispy breaded pork, mixed with slices of celery and carrot, and coated with a thin, sweet and sticky sauce that makes that duck sauce quite unnecessary. It goes well with the chili sauce, I might add. I can see why the crispy pork is so popular. It's not at all gummy or filled with breading and gristle like most crispy porks or chickens I have had in the past. In fact, beyond the coating there really wasn't much breading at all. Just a lot of pork - that's the point, is it not? It was delicious and I have to recommend it, but as usual I needed a doggie bag. The waitress gave me an extra helping of white rice to go along with it!

The folks who came in after me ordered up a few things, but I only got to see their side order of ribs. Damn, they were big. My only thought was "THAT is a SIDE order!?" I would've needed a doggie bag for that alone.

The total bill came to about $15 before tax and tip. I left a good tip, for the extra rice and the friendly service - I can't remember the last time so many people came by to ask me how the food was. I was even complimented on my chopstick-using skills! That made my night.

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