What's New in Harbor East

With October's travels behind me, I started November by returning to my regular work routine only to discover that there had been some changes in the neighborhood. Before I left, the Curbside Cafe - home of the curried chickpea burrito bowl - had closed and The Silver Platter had re-invented itself to mixed reviews. GrrChe and Souper Freak had also made limited engagements and seem destine to never return again (they both set up shop on Fleet Street almost directly in front of one of the neighborhood's established restaurants. I posted a recommendation to go around the corner to Central Street to no avail). This week I discovered that The Silver Platter had broken camp altogether and had left their Central Street lot for Timonium. It appears that the Summer of the Food Truck in Harbor East has come to an end.

But all hope is not lost as two venues have expanded their offerings.

October 20 saw the opening of the long awaited Manchurian Rice Company Asian Grill. Located at 1010 Aliceanna, it occupies the space vacated by Harbor East News where I used to get my photography magazines. They offer a modest selection of Chinese take-out with the claim that each order is fresh and made to order. After several days of soup and juice, I was feeling more like myself on Thursday, so I gave them a try.

The space is actually a two-story space with the counter, grill and a few seats on the first floor, and most of the seating upstairs. And the grill is not actually a grill, but a line of about half a dozen woks with their own individual heat source and water tap. And the food really is made to order. The area is open so you can watch them if you like. There is also a television showing Asian game shows, a nice touch and bizarrely entertaining.

Also behind the counter is the welcome, smiling face of the proprietor of the short-lived Elevation Burger franchise in the neighborhood and the Harbor East Deli currently in its place. With a wide variety of pizza and sandwiches, he brought a staple of the America culinary scene to us in a straight-forward, no-nonsense manner that is much appreciated in an area known for its pretension (many of us remember when it was a vacant field strewn with broken bottles and used paraphernalia and now every restaurant around here is gourmet dining.). His deli and pizzeria has the liquor license he wanted for his Elevation Burger location and has become quite the after work hang out as well. What he did for pizza, he appears to be trying to do for Chinese take-out, another one of America's dietary cornerstones. I always find it easy to trust a restaurateur with one successful endeavor to his credit, especially one who seems to enjoy what he is doing.

This week, I selected what looked to be the spiciest dish on the menu - Topan Shrimp with white rice. It's interesting to note that white rice is free, but fried rice and lo mien are upgrades and are priced as such. I am a fan of neither. I also got a side of the Crab Rangoon, my litmus test for Chinese. The shrimp was indeed hot. I grabbed some extra hot sauce to go but ended up not needing it. The sauce was spicy and rich with a slight flavor of rice wine, but just a little. The vegetables - carrots, onion, broccoli and cabbage - were cooked just enough so that there was still some crispness left in them. The mushrooms and shrimp were also still firm and not tough or chewy (or "swamped" as one of my professional friends says). The more I ate, the saltier it tasted, which is why it is nice to have white rice on the side. It's also where the Crab Rangoon came in handy, although these were sadly inferior to what I have been getting a Wok To Go. The wrapper was tough and the filling was thick and tasted more of cream cheese and barely of crab. Still, it helped absorb some of the salt from the shrimp and was an adequate complement.

The other opening is a new venture by the Bagby Restaurant Group, owners of another pizzeria - the Bagby Pizza Company located in the old Bagby Furniture Factory on Fleet Street. Their latest is the TenTen Bistro at 1010 Fleet Street in the former location of the Dutch Connection florist. I was their first take out customer.

If the guys at Harbor East Deli are unpretentious, the guys at the Bagby Restaurant Group are only slightly more so. Bagby Pizza emphasizes fresh, local, organic ingredients, and so does TenTen, although their menu is more focused on high-end salads and sandwiches (including a bistro burger and an interesting take on the cobb salad), plus a quiche of the day. They also have a full bar with a short list of designer cocktails developed by their bar master.

I ordered the crab cake with fries. It tasted broiled, not fried, and came on one of the best rolls I've had in Maryland. It was dense and chewy and very hearty and was the first time my crab cake has been paired with a roll that could support it. And the crab cake was thick and meaty with crab meat and very little spice or filler. It came with a couple of slices of plum tomato and a leaf of butter lettuce, both very good choices, plus a ramakin of mild horseradish sauce that was a fine partner to the sweet crab. The fries felt and tasted hand-cut. They were lightly dusted with Old Bay and not at all greasy.

I was satisfied with both lunches and an glad to see a couple of local teams expanding.

Topan Shrimp from Manchurian Rice Company with Crab Rangoon

Crab cake from TenTen Bistro with the saddest pickle ever served.